In a bit of a role reversal, I went to England for the weekend with a French man. Hearing his observations about London and Cambridge — the two cities we visited — brought a smile to my face as I remembered thinking some of those same thoughts when I first moved to the UK years ago. The full English breakfast, or ‘fry-up‘, was a big hit, as was Camden market. The new, funky Stables area of the market, complete with wi-fi café and private stables for each group, decked out with chairs and tables, impressed us both.
A low point was using the Tube. I asked why. He said it was the smell. I no longer notice the smell and I had forgotten it had one. He noticed a tube stop called Ealing Broadway and said: ‘Ealing. Does that mean you can go there and get better?’ If you add an ‘h’ to the front of Ealing, you will see what he was getting at. French people don’t pronounce ‘h’s, so he had figured out that Ealing Broadway was a place you could go to for healing.
Once in town, he didn’t understand why people queued when there was room further ahead or why nobody in the shops replied to him when he said ‘bye bye’ to them on our way out. In France, it’s polite to say hello and goodbye, and even nicer to thank the shopkeeper whether you buy something or not. In England, shop staff don’t bother making eye contact with you, let alone greet you on your way in or out! Regardless, he could not break the habit and I heard ‘bye bye’ followed by silence many times over the weekend.
Walking in central London, the French man was weary and he wanted to stop for a drink in a ‘traditional English pub’, so I took him to the first small, dark pub we came across. ‘No,’ he said, ‘this is too dark.’ So, I took him to a trendy wine bar. ‘But this doesn’t feel like a pub,’ he said. I explained that English pubs were traditionally small and dark, but he wasn’t happy until we found a less-dark pub. He tried a half-pint of London Pride, commenting that it was warm before falling asleep in his chair with a few drops left in the glass. I was on the phone arranging to meet a friend and hadn’t noticed his closed eyes. Within minutes, the pub landlord was hassling me to wake him up or get out. The sleepy French man felt refreshed from his few minutes of respite and we continued on to Trafalgar Square. Any beer he consumed after that point was always something marked as Extra Cold.
In Cambridge, he wanted to find out more about a product created by university students. We split so that I could shop while he went to a college for more information. We met an hour later and he looked dejected. ‘I see that British red tape is as bad as French,’ he said, explaining that he had been told from one college to go to another college, who then told him to go back to the first one. He was, however, given a course outline for post-graduate studies! He has no intention to study in Cambridge, but it’s good to see the British staff are on the ball for luring in foreign students. Highlights were, apparently, the Mathematical Bridge on our punting trip, bacon, and brown sauce (thanks to the lovely Railway Lodge, where we stayed). Speaking of food, Marmite joined warm beer, the Tube and British weather as elements of the UK that the French man hopes to avoid on his next UK visit. Fry-ups and Krispy Kreme donuts will, however, be sought out!