Tag Archives: France

The British invasion

Some things are just inescapably British – ideas or products that you would just never think to see anywhere else in the world. Try to describe an Eccles cake to an American, for instance, and you’d probably see a wrinkling of features and a look of disgust reserved for farmyard smells and cat vomit. Dandelion and burdock is clearly one of the tastiest fizzy popssodas around, but that doesn’t mean it would make sense to a German. And while the likely identity of the the Christmas number one is debated in pubs and TV shows across the land, nobody else in the world cares what tops their chart on December 25th.

If there’s one country that’s peculiarly averse to all things British, it’s France. Government rations the amount of English language music that can be played on French radio, while there’s a constant war waged against the creeping Anglicisation of the language. Put simply, the French are a proud nation and would be perfectly happy to have nothing to do with the British if they could possibly avoid it.

Which makes the presence of this packet in a local supermarchegrocery store all the more surprising:

Fisherman's Friend

I can’t remember the last time I saw these things in the UK, let alone in a French supermarket. Menthol pastilles with more kick than an angry donkey, Fisherman’s Friend are British enough that you practically expect a rousing chorus of Land of Hope & Glory every time you open a packet. And now they’re in France. Next they’ll be eating Branston Pickle with their croque monsieurs, and salad cream with their fromage et jambon baguettes.

I was so shocked, I had to buy three packets. The Special One and The Young Ones won’t know what’s hit ’em, I can tell you.

Expect the unexpected

Like Drew Barrymore and her endless ability to score the lead roles in sappy rom-coms, A Brit Out Of Water would be nothing without a stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, I like to tell it as I see it, but sometimes you just have to fall back on good old-fashioned exaggeration to get your point across. I am, after all, a man.

For instance, where would all the fun be if I didn’t characterise the British as ever-so-slightly repressed stuck-in-the-muds with a predilection towards moral superiority and a penchant for inbreeding. And if I didn’t insist that that the sun never shines and that black pudding is compulsory by law on Tuesdays and Fridays, you’d probably not even believe that I was British in the first place.

Meanwhile all Americans have cameras with lenses longer than their arms, eat sandwiches filled with enough meat to feed a small army, and have a commitment to pronunciation that can at best be described as ‘perfunctory’. Obviously, most New Yorkers are brash, rude, and wouldn’t know the phrase ‘thank you’ if it came up to them and whacked them in the head with a bag full of bagels.

If stereotypes were to be believed, of course, the French are garlic eating surrender monkeys whose all-encompassing arrogance makes them the most self-involved nation outside, well, Britain. Certainly, legend would have it (and occasional experience has confirmed) that as a general rule they’re not particularly patient when it comes to dealing with foreigners who get in their way. So when The Special One had a small vehicular malfunction on our holidayvacation on a narrow and hilly road last week, and the traffic built up around us, I expected the honking horns to rise to a rousing crescendo within a matter of moments.

Not a bit of it. Everybody got out of their cars and gathered around us, offering advice and comfort as we sought to get a car with the power of a small lawnmower over the brow of a particularly steep hill. There was practically wild applause as we finally got going, the locals waving us on our way as they joyfully returned to their cars. Stereotypes count for nothing in this beautiful part of the world, I can tell you.

Unless you’re talking about back seat drivers, that is. Fourteen years without having sat behind the wheel, and I still managed to offer a barrage of misplaced advice and unhelpful tips. I’m just grateful that The Special One didn’t have a bag of bagels with her…

Getting away from it all

I’ve been away for a week, sunning myself in the south of France and taking advantage of the lack of broadband to take an impromptu blog break. Fortunately, the presence of a The Special One, good friends, a big swimming pool, great food and plenty of the aforementioned sun, I seemed to get by…

The trip to the Cote D’Azur came via the wonders of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 last Friday, which may well be the quietest airport on earth – and all the more relaxing for it. Like most major construction projects in the UK, it took seventeen times as long to build as it should have done (and cost thirty four times its original budget) but it’s still a huge step forward in air travel as far as I’m concerned – especially as I’m well used to the limited facilities of New York’s JFK airport. As we slipped effortlessly away from the terminal in a taxi to stay with The Best Man and family, I felt proud to be British.

Then I saw a giant billboard for Nuts TV, proclaiming “every night, darts and fights.” I packed away the Union Jack, slipped the maroon passport back in my pocket, and pondered the day’s date, July 4. No wonder the Americans were so keen on independence.

In search of a slogan

Everyone loves a good slogan. Whether it’s a movie tagline like “Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water” or an advertising jingle such as “A Mars A Day Helps You Work, Rest & Play”, nothing sticks in the head like a catchy slogan. I can guarantee that absolutely every Brit reading this blog will have sung the Mars tagline to themselves in the last five seconds, such is the power of a pithily written motto.

Like every good chocolate bar or Hollywood blockbuster, some countries have managed to get in on the motto act with a short sentence that sums up their raison d’etre. Never ones to miss a chance to show off their all round liberalism, the French opted for “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (or ‘liberty, equality and brotherhood’, for the benefit of my Freedom Fry eating friends). Senegal weighs in with “Un peuple, un but, une foi” which sounds great in French, but when translated into its English meaning of ‘One people, one goal, one faith’ starts to sound uncannily like a Queen record. And who can argue with Guatemala’s “Libre Crezca Fecundo”? Or ‘Grow free and fertile’ to you and me.

Of course, America sticks with “In God We Trust”. Which seems a little rich given that they won’t even give me Good Friday off work. Maybe they should consider some kind of addendum such as “In God* We Trust (*Other gods are available)”? Their Latin motto of “E pluribus unum” (‘out of many, one’) is a little more melting-pot friendly perhaps, although rumours that the slogan refers to the number of accepted votes for Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 presidential election could not be confirmed at time of going to press.

The British were seemingly too busy with colonising the rest of the world to bother particularly with a motto, and by the time that they got around to it, all the good ones had already gone so they decided not to bother. Sure, the royals attempt to insist on “Dieu et mon droit” (or ‘God and my right’) but given that it makes precious little sense, I think most people would be just as happy with “Britain: Finger Lickin’ Good”.

Apparently Gordon Brown has launched some kind of task force to attempt to find a motto for the UK, having clearly decided that the issues of health, education and crime are nothing like as important as finding a catchphrase to put on our tourist literature. Given that he seems willing to put it to a popular vote, we’ll probably end up with something along the lines of “The UK is like well skill, LOL!! ROFL LMAO!!!”

After going to a sushi place today to grab some lunch, and finding that it has shut down about six weeks after it opened, I reckon that America should probably change its motto to “Nothing Lasts Forever”. I’ve had trips to the toilet that have lasted longer than some restaurants in this city.

What’s for lunch

I’m currently in the south of France, basking in the glorious sunshine in the odd moment or two when I’m not working. The few days I’m here are an opportunity to catch up with the latest developments and debates in the industry in which I work, as well as to spend time with colleagues and acquaintances that I haven’t seen for a while. And inevitably, that means ‘doing lunch’.

Meeting people and spending time getting to know them is a pretty essential part of my job, and as a result, I’ve had more than my fair share of business lunches. Sadly they can’t all be like today’s lunch, which involved seafood, good company and plenty of chatting – all in a swanky restaurant on the beach with the sun gleaming majestically off the sea a few yards away. There are worse ways to earn a living, I can tell you.

What struck me today is that eating out at lunchtime is different wherever you are in the world. When I first started out in my career back in the UK, I had a number of lunches that could potentially have had books or plays written about them, such was the bacchanalian excess that ensued on more than one occasion. All in the name of (professional) relationship building, obviously. Drinking at lunchtime in Britain is a commonly accepted part of doing business, and although not everybody does it, it’s certainly not frowned upon in most companies. Unless your business is ‘driving trains’, of course.

In the United States, business lunches are much more transactional and, well, professional. There is a more firmly established agenda, and conversation is much less likely to deviate from work matters. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s actually a more open and transparent way of doing business that admits that two people can have a professional relationship without first having to talk about the recent downturn in temperature, or whether the other person’s dog is properly house-trained.

Certainly, the very prospect of alcohol with lunch generally seems to be frowned upon in America, unless you know that person very well. Even at lunches with friends, the ordering of a beer tends to lead to your companion sighing wistfully before not-so-subtly mentioning the magazine feature they’ve recently read on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Here in France of course, not ordering at least a bottle of wine with lunch as my colleague and I did today can lead to near instant deportation. But to be fair, the stillflat water that we opted for instead meant that we could concentrate far better on the glorious food placed infront of us. While the British focus on the booze, and Americans on the business, the French just make sure that they get the food right. Which to my mind shows they’ve got their priorities in exactly the right place. And probably explains why they’re perfectly happy to sit there for two hours enjoying the experience.

Now if you don’t mind, it’s almost time for dinner. After the meals I’ve had over the last few days, I should probably phone the airline to see if I can get an extra wide seat.