Opinion: Sorry France je regrette I won’t be coming to live in your country
- Credit: PA
Mon nom est Stacia Briggs et je suis allé en France pour mes vacances et c'était très agréable. J'avais une baguette et un peu de fromage et une glace.
I have just got back from a week with our cousins across the Channel where I spent seven days with Norfolk's D-Day heroes (and heroine) and their families and friends – when we weren't drinking, eating bread or driving past another shop that was closed, we were debating whether or not we could live in France.
On the whole, we decided we couldn't, which is either good news if you like me or bad news if you don't. I don't suit stripy T-shirts, strings of onions or berets and – call me a prude – I'd be narked if my boyfriend took several mistresses. But in the spirit of a maths GCSE, here are my workings out so that you can see how I reached my answer.
Reasons why I might not want to move to France:
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• You spend six years conjugating verbs, countless hours getting to grips with a language that has too many vowels to be decent and then, when you unleash the lingo en France, the French answer you in English. 'Je voudrais un sandwich au fromage, s'il vous plait,' I asked the other day (I was in a shop that sold sandwiches. To be fair, I might have asked the same thing if I was in a shop that sold hats because it's about the only sentence I am vaguely secure about using). 'We've only got cheese with ham,' came the heavily-accented reply. 'Est-ce trop demander que vous pourriez me repondre en Francais?' I replied, with legendary British sarcasm. I didn't really. I just bought an éclair.
• Being a vegetarian in rural France is a real challenge. By 'challenge', I mean 'impossibility'. A vegetarian salad in France is one where the cow's heart, liver, kidneys and anal glands have been removed from your plate at the table and replaced with bacon. Or a crayfish with an accusing look on its face. Even worse, thanks to our deeply inadequate education system and our inherent mistrust of anything foreign, there are only about three people in Britain who understand French menus, and they're all too traumatised to speak of the horrors they have seen. Everything on the menu looks fantastic, but that's because you have absolutely no idea what it is and are simply bowled over by the fact it's written in another language. The French telephone directory would look equally tasty. Every meal is a potential minefield. I wouldn't be surprised if the desserts are all made from offal.
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• Being in France on a Sunday is like living in Old Costessey on a Sunday in the early 1980s. Nothing is open, there's nothing to do, everyone has to pretend that it's really great to spend lots of time eyeball-to-eyeball with their family. The major difference is that in France, everyone is perpetually drunk, so nothing really matters.
• And on the subject of drink… we are forever being told that the Europeans are streets ahead of us when it comes to their attitude to alcohol, and that what we call child abuse (giving Jean-Pierre wine at the age of two) they call a 'relaxed drinking culture'. According to the French, the Brits approach licensing laws like a parched man in the desert who comes across a water fountain – we drink as much as we can as quickly as we can and then we fall over, vomit, fight or stand in the road shouting 'Darren – leave it – he i'nt worth it!' In France nobody spends their weekend binge drinking and passing out on the pavement. This is mainly because they are all far too bladdered to get to the pub, having had their first aperitif at 6.30am. They drink in the morning. They drink at lunchtime. They drink in the afternoon. They drink in the evening. I'm not entirely convinced that they don't spend the night hooked up to a wine drip.
• It's not only Sundays when shops aren't open. It's evenings. And early mornings. Basically, your default mode should be one of assuming that no shops will be open, ever. The French have a laissez-faire (see? A week in France and I'm practically native) attitude towards work, by which I mean they don't do a great deal of it.
• My Mum doesn't live there.
• The French have 13 bank holidays a year. T-h-i-r-t-e-e-n. Bank holidays are like covert Sundays that creep up on you stealthily like diabetes or dry rot and on top of the bank holidays you've then got actual Sundays, and that's before you factor in holidays, the fact that the French appear to take all of August off and when they're not on holiday they're on strike, at the doctor's asking for suppositories for illnesses they haven't got, eating, drinking or taking another mistress. It's astonishing the French have an economy at all.
• Do the French use fresh milk? I didn't see any in seven days. Their tea is awful, too.
• It is considered unseemly for women to get drunk, eat in public or act in an unladylike way. Which means only seven per cent of my life would be deemed acceptable by the French.
Reasons why I might want to move to France:
• Everyone speaks English! Forget all that tiresome business about learning a language and assimilating and making an effort – just go to France and everyone will fall over backwards to talk to you in your native tongue. Sometimes, they even translate menus for you so that you don't feel like an idiot, although I'm not sure if knowing that you're eating 'fish intestine curry' will make it any tastier. Probably the reverse.
• No one does baked goods like the French. Don't get me wrong, I love that bakery on Unthank Road next to the Co-op and have often taken the lazy mother route of sending my son off to school with one of its sausage rolls as a 'packed lunch' (it's in a bag, isn't it?), but French patisseries serve slices of actual heaven. Yes, there's offal on absolutely everything that's savoury, yes the literal translation of their 'batard' rolls is something unmentionable in English but have you seen their cakes?
• It's easy to be a vegetarian in France – you just have to make a few adjustments to your diet. In other words, you just have to eat cakes.
• The French way of life is so laid back that it's astonishing anyone ever stands up. I'm not even sure there's a French word for 'stress' – in fact there's so little to be worried about that the French have become a nation of hypochondriacs just so they've got something to do. The French consume 40 per cent more prescription pills than their European neighbours and le malade imaginaire is the nation's favourite hobby – it is a fact that every prescription written in France includes an order for suppositories. This means they have lots of public toilets – always a bonus.
• There are lots of pancakes in France. I love pancakes. I am still in mourning for Tombland's Pizza One, Pancakes Two (RIP).
• The French have 13 bank holidays a year! Going to work would be a novelty, rather than a chore and you couldn't even spend the holidays listlessly perusing the aisles at a DIY shop before embarking on an unwise home décor project because THE SHOPS ARE NEVER OPEN.
• The houses are nicer, the streets are cleaner, Paris is astonishing and I've had the best times of my life there, people think you're chic if you wear all-black and don't shout 'Halloween's over, love' at you, the weather is better and the cheese boards laugh in the face of British ones. Come to think of it, why am I not moving to France again?