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Those little French things that we all miss
As a French expatriate in the UK, I am going through the tough experiment of withdrawal symptoms. Forget the cliché about French people missing baguettes, cheese and wine, we can always manage to find these products albeit not that easily if you are looking for quality. Indeed, what I miss today is not what I thought I would…
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when French people meet they always talk about food. Eating is such a French passion that no French person takes food lightly. So how could a French person survive in the Kingdom of beans and Marmite? At least all the stereotypes that we are fed at school were stuck in my mind: English people eat sweet mint jelly everyday, they boil their meat and cook it for hours, they have tea with their meal, they put ketchup on everything even their cereals, they have peanut butter and jam sandwiches...The list is endless. So how could I possibly survive in London, I wondered before moving in. Naturally, I quickly realised that I had underestimated Britons. London over the last 20 years, has become one of the great culinary centres of the world. With some of the best chefs. So why did I feel that I was missing certain things which are broadly available in France.? Or was it simply the shopping experience which simply wasn't the same?
Coquillettes is a true institution in France. Children's favourite pasta, coquillettes are students' predilection dish and even grown-ups eat them with pleasure. And yet British people have never heard of them and it’s practically impossible to find any in the supermarkets. Don’t be surprised next time you see pasta inFrench people's luggage- as far as I’m concerned, I always bring some when I come back from France and even ask my friends to do so. I can’t even imagine growing up without coquillettes. English children have all my sincere sympathy.
- Chocapic and chocolate-filled cereals
On top of this, English children also seem to have missed out on a necessary French element of children's breakfast: chocolate-filled cereal. My French flatmate desperately misses Chocapic, a brand of chocolate cereal every French person used to eat when they were children. And, apparently even big children still appreciate it…
Don’t even dare to compare French “cornichons” with English pickles. In the UK, pickles are big, sweet and soft. In other words, tasteless. On the contrary, in France, they are small, sour and crunchy. The most famous French brand uses as catch phrase “only Maille fits me” (“Il n’y a que Maille qui m’aille”). Believe me or not, but this turned out to be true!
Everybody in France has yoghurts in his fridge. And how could we do without it? French people generally eat some as a snack during the day and at the end of almost every meals. I haven't seen anything like this in Britain! This must explain why the choice is so reduced. La Laitière, Mamie Nova, Gervais, why didn’t you reach London? In a supermarket, yoghurt sections are extremely depressing for a French expatriate.
However this is nothing compared with the meat section.
When I arrived in London, I didn’t eat meat for weeks. Not because of the ghost of mad-cow disease but because of its appearance itself and the lack of choice. I just couldn’t trust it. Eventually, the increasing possibility of anemia spurred me into buying, but this was not without reservation...Clearly meat is not as good as in France. French people, enjoy your beautiful beefsteaks and sirloins and flanks and duck filets… because you can’t find any of these in a British supermarket. What is easily available to every French person has to be sought out in luxury butchers and sold at a price definitely not attainable for the average English family. Charal is cruelly missing here. Happily there are some good French brasseries where you could savour it with a glass of red wine and even some baguette to wipe your béarnaise sauce. But, when you have to cook it yourself, be brave: if English people can , so can you.
Don’t panic there is some “moutarde de Dijon” in the supermarkets, however most of the time you will find American mustard… which clearly doesn’t taste like mustard.
Picard is a French brand which sells frozen food of the highest quality. So handy! Forget it in the UK and get busy cooking if you want to eat properly.
- The bakery around the corner
Wherever you are in France, there is always at least one bakery around the corner. When you move into a place, it's not rare for the first thing your neighbour to tell you is where to get the best baguette. This is information of the highest importance. In the UK of course there's no bakery except if you are lucky enough to live near a French one. And this does not always deliver what you would expect, certainly not at the prices you are used to. However desperate you are, don't even think of picking up one of the supermarkets' versions of our baguette. These are soggy and often stale and bare no resemblance whatsoever to their namesake.
- The café around the corner
Britons don't have the culture of cafés. In France, cafés are a major aspect of socialising. French people could spend hours drinking an espresso in a small cup and discussing with friends. Cafés "à la française" are rare in the UK and spending hours in a Starbucks may be slightly weird and boring. There are, of course, still pubs but having a long and profound conversation or even gossiping there is difficult.
- Good transports
Many French people have been living in London for years and sometimes it's even hard to spot them. However in the tube you can recognise them easily. For a French person and especially a Parisian, waiting more than 3 minutes to get a tube is scandalous. On the contrary in London, everybody seems to be patient. For instance, one morning a man told me with a big smile that the next circle line train would come within 16 minutes... I'm pretty sure that would have provoked a riot in France!
In the same way, British people always sit still when the train stops between two stations or when the traffic gets suspended. French people, in contrast, tap their feet angrily and curse out loud. Is that due to the mythical British composure or to the high quality of the Metro's content? I don't know. However, I do know that, in Paris, there's no need of a "service update" every ten minutes because the métro generally works.
Velib' has changed the life of Parisians. They will miss it in London. Be patient, a project of hire bicycles is being considered.
- The doctor visiting patients at home
In France when you are too sick, you can ask your GP to come to your place. This is particularly common as far as children are concerned. Don't dare to suggest it to a British GP, he would not understand and the situation would be so awkward...
And what about you? What do you miss in the UK?
As far as I'm concerned I have to be totally honest. There are some things I'm glad to find here and I can't find in France. Topshop, Urban Outfiters, true vintage shops, Boots; peanut butter, crumpets, crackers, shortbreads, 24 hours buses, taxis everywhere, films released months earlier ... remind me that I'm lucky to live here and, if I was about to leave Englang, some things would miss me.