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Marrying a Brit: a good idea?
You fell in love with England even before you arrived for the first time. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Monty Python, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde or Danny Boyle had already convinced you of the UK’s greatness. So when you meet him/her, you are already in love with the idea of England. No need for him/her to lay on the British Touch too thickly, you are already under the spell and everything is wonderful. Just one small thing: you are a Frog, he / she is a "rosbif". No big deal you may say. The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) is a long way behind us and the French and the Brits are no longer the best of enemies they used to be. But make no mistake, peace has not necessarily broken out amongst Franco-British couples. Here are a few cultural differences that could affect household harmony more than you think.
Punctuality: At first glance, nothing seems better than a woman or a man who does not stick to the French rule of being 15 minutes late. For once, you will be on time for family reunions on Sundays, you will never miss the beginning of a movie and with a little luck you will be five minutes early everywhere you go. The English do not like to rush into anything at the last minute. So far so good. But this obsessive (to the French) punctuality and this unshakable calm quickly becomes monotonous. The Brits like to make plans. And not a fake one like the French. By this I mean, they stick to what they have decided to do, not like most of the Gauls who deviate from it all the time depending on their sudden desires and ideas. Obviously, they are not all the same and some English enjoy wandering about a city aimlessly, sitting for hours in a charming café. But one of the cultural differences that could get on your nerves could be their lack of taste for the unexpected. At the end of the day, there is no big deal, you will get over it and your partner will not stand your carelessness very long either.
Your dishes: The era of English-junk-food is over. You have no reason to fear the The-Sun-wrapped fish and chips or daily fast food as an obesity-diet.
The Brits are maybe not perfect cooks like your French grand mother, but they are far from being kitchen dummies (as most French people think). Actually, London has its fair share of restaurants compared to the gastronomic paradise that Paris used to be. In fact, the Brits love to cook, but unlike the French, they were not born to it. From a very young age, French kids are taught how to make daily meals and they can knock up a tasty meal in a few minutes. As for the Brits, they prefer to follow recipes as their parents rarely showed them how to make anything. Not all of them, of course. But if you expect them to take a quick look in the fridge and prepare a delicious homemade dish like “maman”, you are daydreaming. In the UK making the meal is not natural it is an effort. So do not be rude, compliment him/her as soon as something comes out of the kitchen and buy recipe books to inspire your loved one.
Your grumpy comments: Complimenting your partner on every dish might seem quite excessive to you, but it is essential to the Brits. If, being French, you are prone to making critical/helpful comments such as “There is not enough salt in this”, "It was better last time”, “You really don’t know how to make a Tarte Tatin”, “It’s not a myth, the Brits do not know how to cook”, you might be better off keeping your comments for yourself. During a dinner with English people, you might notice everyone will compliment the cook even if what she/he did is not fantastic. You might even hear a “mmm, delicious”. But do not laugh or make any critical comments. The Brits would never openly criticise a dish that required a certain effort. At worst, they might venture an ironic comments such as: “You must have bought that at Marks and Sparks” (which means anything from “It’s really good, you can’t have baked that yourself” to “It’s no good, but it’s not your fault”). Fair enough, in your house at home in France, everybody criticises everybody else, but here negative comments are a faux pas.
Culinary surprises: And yet some of their national dishes well and truly deserve your veto once in a while. English cuisine has evolved, but some remnants of their dubious food are still in use today. One of the most striking examples is their baked beans on toast.
First of all, The French do not even know what they are. But all the Brits have this war-rationing-like tin in their cupboard. The nicest part comes when you open it. A reddish mish-mash so-called “tomato sauce” covers up some white beans. Actually, they taste better than they look, especially with mushrooms, sausages and bacon for a typical English breakfast. However, things become strange when the Brits shove them on a buttered piece of toast. And by marrying a Brit, you are taking the risk, at best, of having to eat them too, at worst, seeing her/he take loads of tins with you each time you go back to France.
Your family meals: The real problem is not so much what you eat, but how. A French dinner usually happens as follows: “Dinner is served.” Silence. "Dinneeerrr is serveeeeeeed" Once. Twice. Three times. After numerous attempts, you will get an "I am cominnnnnnnng" from your loved ones shouting from the other end of the house. Ten minutes later, everyone is around the table. Hostilities can begin.
One starts telling about his day. A few sentences later, his father cuts in to add something, then his mother, the sister follows, then comes the brother. The discussion heats up. People get emotional. It is a war as to who will speak the loudest to get heard. And a Brit will not survive long in such a mad house...at least not the first time.
The English will expect you to be polite and respectful when others are speaking. If you shout in his/her face, he/she will surely answer in a diplomatic manner, without raising his voice. For him/her we are nonetheless barbaric creatures that bark at each other while we stuff ourselves with smelly cheese. But as the law of the jungle ususally prevails, it will not be too long before he/she loses his/her temper. At best, they will moderate your moods; at worst they will convert to your erattic behaviour. And then, you will probably regret pushing them too far... Sweet was the time of his/her polite interjections such as "I do understand your point, however I would add that… ". Unfortunately, they have now understood the "art" of French conversation.
Their tea: You might wonder how they constantly maintain their composure, their legendary politeness and calm. Just spend a day with a Brit and you will get what drives them: tea. This sounds like a blunt stereotype, but it is utterly true. At any time of the day or of the night, they fill up their favourite mug with their Twinings goodies. And when I say all the time, I mean it. First thing in the morning, they put the kettle on (and this expression hardly exists in France). First thing when they arrive at work: putting the kettle on. Before and after lunch, for every break, when they come back home, before going to bed: putting the kettle on is part of British way of life. And not only do they do it for themselves, but they ask you to put the kettle on too (understand: could you please make me a cup of tea, commonly called a “cuppa’ tea”). Be prepared to see your kitchen full of teapots and tea accessories, because every pot makes different tea, right?
Their drinking habits: Their love of tea is probably correlated with their love of alcohol. Get over it. The Brits love to have a pint, and not just one. They do get wasted on a Friday night and disagreeable scenes in the street is common. Of course things change, the English increasingly frown upon binge drinking and are more aware of their consumption. But between the familiarisation of the French with wine tasting from a very young age, and the massive consumption of the English, there is a world of difference.
Sociability: Drinking so much might seem appalling but it actually contributes to one good thing: their social life. If there is just one thing of the English that you do not want to change that is it. Their parties are funnier and crazier, it is a fact. If it is a costume party, everyone will play the game without fearing ridicul. If it is a concert, they will come to enjoy the music and let themselves go. They will also come to speak to you if they do not know you, unlike the French who tend to stay in their comfort-zone and hang around only with their friends. The English have more fun, that is what you like about them, so do not change anything there.
Their music: The superiority of British rock and roll is indisputable. Rock classics like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Status Quo, or soul such as Amy Winehouse, or today's rock with Kasabian and Kaiser Chiefs and many more prove that the English know how to create good vibes.
Their accent: You cannot deny this, it is charming. "Le chaise" (the seat) and "la chien" (The dog) will irritate you, but these errors fade away with time and bring some freshness to the French language. Not to mention that your children will be fully bilingual, an undeniable advantage today.
Moral of the story: Everything that first seemed nice will start to annoy you (punctuality, calm). Everything that seemed awful will maybe charm you. Who knows, you might finish up loving baked-beans-on-toast? At the end of the day, your confrontation with British culture will depend a lot on which type of Brits you encounter. But in the end, Franco-British couples have to work so hard to understand their differences from the beginning that it may create stronger fundations for a lasting relationship... Good luck!
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