Category Archives: Tradition

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Frenchman…

The coastline at Cannes

Driving back to New York after Christmas with The In Laws upstate, The Special One and I were listening to the radio in a bid to keep ourselves awake. After a number of alt.rock classics, the DJ launched into a tirade against French music, and made a number of jokes at the expense of the French. While The Special One chuckled quietly to herself, I sat in stony silence.

You see, it’s a fact of life that all nationalities have a country that’s the designated butt of their jokes. The Belgians tell jokes about the Dutch, Latvians and Lithuanians make fun of Estonians, and the Austrians poke ridicule at their Germanic cousins. In America, New Yorkers make fun of people from New Jersey, and everybody has a laugh at Canadians.

Whether it’s tongue in cheek or borderline racism I’m not sure, but the basic fact is that every group of people seems to need a whipping boy to convince them that life in their own homeland could be worse.

The British, of course, have been making fun of the Irish for centuries. But over the last few years, maybe as the uneasy peace has come to Northern Ireland, there’s been a noticeable tailing off in jokes made at the expense of the Irish. And that’s where the French come in.

The rivalry between Britain and France goes back centuries. They call us ‘les rosbifs’, laugh at our cooking, and spit on our steaks if we have the temerity to ask for them well done. In return, we collectively sneer at ‘the frogs’, cower in terror at their campsite toilet facilities, and make references to their dubious military record.

The fact is though that we secretly love the French. We’re jealous at their ability to make clothes look good, we wish we could make pastries that taste anywhere near as good as theirs, and we can’t help but admire the romance and passion of their language. I’m in Cannes at the moment, and it’s a non-stop festival of food and fashion that you just can’t help but admire.

As a result, while I’m more than happy to make jokes at the expense of the French myself, if any other nation starts to wade in on them, I’ll get all defensive and start attempting to protect their honour. And the longer I’m away from the UK, the more European I seem to become – I’ll be defending Germans before you know it, mark my words.

For the moment though, be warned America, the French are ours to make fun of, so sod off and find your own target to crack jokes about. But try to be nice about Canada if you can – there’s plenty of French there, after all.

Merci beaucoup.

There’s no place like home

For somebody who isn’t remotely patriotic, has no celebratory mugs bearing images of the Queen or Prince Edward, and wouldn’t be able to tell you which way up a Union Jack flag is meant to be even if you paid him, I have to say that ‘being British’ is something I enjoy and am proud of. OK, so I’m not willing to defend our violent colonial past, our role in the Iraq conflict or our responsibility for the meteoric rise of the Cheeky Girls, but on the whole I have to agree with Grand Lake Ink and her assertion that “I think I won the lottery of life being born British.”

Britain has many faults, regardless of who has political power at any given moment. And any country which has more votes cast for a pop talent show than for a general election should always consider a long hard look in the mirror. But it’s also an incredibly beautiful place, with (as one American friend once put it) “Roman shit and old stuff everywhere”. And there’s at least an attempt at a duty of care towards its people, which you can’t say about many countries.

Of course, being away from your homeland only heightens those feelings of affection. It’s not out of any lack of love for New York either – if any city can put you in a Christmas mood, it’s this one. But emigration kits come equipped with rose-tinted spectacles. If I was in the UK right now, I’d be moaning about the weather and bleating about the failures of the economic system. Instead, I sit on the subway dreaming wistfully of low-lying moisture laden clouds and fog, and an interest rate that’s at least above zero (for the moment, admittedly).

The strangest thing about not being in Britain is that it makes you pine for things you never bothered much with when you were there in the first place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a biscuit as much as the next man. And the man next to me right now is called Mr McVitie. But back home I’d probably go six months without eating one, and certainly wouldn’t buy them in a supermarketgrocery store. Now I have vivid dreams involving custard creams and bourbon biscuits, and I’d kill for a Garibaldi.

Similarly, the Christmas spirit has me longing to go to a pantomime. I haven’t been to a pantomime since about 1987, when Angie from Eastenders played a thigh-slapping Aladdin alongside Derek Griffiths from Play School and Play Away at the Pavillion Theatre in Bournemouth. But right now, I’d be more than happy with a slapstick cry of “he’s behind you” and the last five minutes of fame for a Big Brother star from three years ago.

Earlier this week, the pangs reached a new low when I found myself in the kitchen making Cornish pasties from scratch. Without a recipe. I have never made Cornish pasties in my life. Love them though I do, they’re a convenience food that you pick up when you’re hungry. Making them yourself is much less convenient, let me tell you. Back home, there would be more chance of me eating pencil sharpeners than there would be of making my own Cornish pasties, but here it just seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.

Anyway, enough of this. I’m going to see Oasis tonight, and I’ve got no idea where I’ve put the tickets.