I am English and I now live in France. I was born in Greece but I was mainly raised in the UK so most of my cultural reference points are Brit ones.
My wandering minstrel life so far has not surprisingly landed me up in Paris with a French Corsican husband.
I am now a French resident. I buy French toothpaste now (tastes of salt), eat weird UHT milk with my Nestle cereal (smells off) and when I order a cafe I expect an espresso rather than a frothy latte.
I have been here now for three years and I feel I am in a twilight franglais zone which some of you may be familiar with if living in a foreign country. I can do day-to-day stuff in French but haven't mastered noisy dinner parties with 'in jokes' that go over my head - especially if they are the French favourite subject of - philosophy and politics. Ronflement (SNORE)
Yet as soon as I get to the UK I automatically speak to shop assistants or barmen in French. I haven't worked out what language I am dreaming in but I think it may well be pidgen/patois.
But as I travel back from London today on the entente cordiale of transport,the Eurostar, I feel blessed to have one leg either side of the Manche.
France is a flute of champagne. Like its glittery Eiffel Tower life effervesces there. A basic Sunday lunch quickly becomes a gourmet feast after a trip to the local market. Food comes before everything. Epicureanism has been democratised. The Revolution has assured that the people of all backgrounds know the difference between a clam and a whelk and a comte and a tome cheese.
Paris is a living, breathing catwalk. The aesthetic is terribly important. Heels clack along the cobbled streets and carefully plucked eyebrows are raised at you if you dare leave your appart without make up or a blow dry.
Family is a big deal too. Holidays are meant for family time which is why no-one takes time off outside of the summer, Christmas or Easter windows. People go South to stay at grandparents or to the West Coast where they went on hols as kids. Mums with one or two kids are seen as slightly disappointing - three or four are decent number and the earlier the better. I went to a dinner party recently - I was by far the oldest and haven't even squeezed one sproglet out. The others were on at least two.
Sex is also up there with food. Yes, sex - we are French. Seduction is an artform - lingerie boutiques line every street as do Body Minute waxing pitstops. If you're married and sex life isn't working out it's quite OK to take a lover. As long as you're sitting at the kitchen table the next morning. Paris also has some serious sex clubs from burlesque to swingers.
UK is more of a pint of beer. It's steady and nourishing. It's also unpretentious and doesn't feel the need to prove itself.
Food is tasty grub. A wholesome pie and mash with lashings of gravy. Puds too. It's Jamie Oliver - no fancy pancy stuff and lots of cheer. Pub food, bbqs and fry-ups make for fun times rather than explosions of taste buds. Laughter and humour fill the holes left by the Hula Hoops.
People wear what they want to which allows for fashion eccentricity and creativity. It's not uncommon to see someone in Starbucks wearing their slippers. Nor a pink dayglo tights and a blue wig a la Katie Perry. London is more of a circus...anything goes. Topshop is worn by Kate Moss - I'm not sure Marion Cotillard would.
Mates are everything. Down the pub, holidays together, stag/hen do's and later with each others' kids. I miss the banter more than anything. Those moments when someone is telling a funny story and you are doubled up with laughter. Maybe I'm missing the point in France as I'm not fully bilingual but I haven't seen many French roaring with hilarity at their candlelit soirees. In fact when I crack up at them - usually snorting as I do when I laugh - they look decidedly disapproving.
As for sex, no thanks please, we're British. Seriously though, it is behind closed doors and in my own personal experience a less sensual moment and more of a rumpy pumpy one. Probably a huge generalisation - I fear for all the comments - but all the best lovers have been Frenchies. First one being a Franco-Italian who seduced me with poetry. A bit fromage-y but as an impressionable 18-year-old I was like a butterfly to a flame.
If you look at the two countries on a map they are incredibly close - you can sail drive or even swim from one to the other. But culturally they are worlds apart. Maybe like siblings who try to be different to show their own personality France, is definitely the slick elegant elder sister of the tomboyish rebel. But as with siblings they complement each other and their opposites attract. French are drawn to the British quirkiness and British to the refined French way.
I love my life with my French fella. He likes his Britchick too. We love in French, often laugh in English and row in both, making it a cacophony. Let's hope Prince Harry finds himself a pretty demoiselle and then we will be able to celebrate a new Entente Cordiale, champagne and beer for all.
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