They say you are the nationality that you dream in. My dreams have always been a mélange of Franglais, but I have to admit that the English has been taking centre stage of late. I don’t have a drop of British blood in me, but these days you’d never know it . So what makes the British quintessentially so, and what is the difference between the French and the British?
An Englishman in a bowler hat is as much of a cliché for Britishness as being French means sporting a beret with baguette in one hand and an accordion in the other. We share the same flag colours, a tunnel now connects our shores, and we signed an Entente Cordiale in 1904 ending nearly a thousand years of conflict, but the cultural DNA of the French and the British are as disparate as a Brie de Meaux is to a Stinking Bishop. So here’s my Froggy take on what makes the British deserve their French namesake: Les Rosbifs (aka the Roast Beefs).
The Brits spend a lot of time apologising. They apologise when someone bumps into them as much as they would when they bump into someone. If someone else is completely in the wrong, they still say sorry. They are so apologetic that they invented a game called Sorry, where you apologise for taking out your opponent’s pawns.
And yes, I’m afraid this has all rubbed off onto me. Years of playing Sorry coupled with lots of bumping into all sorts has made me the most apologetic French person out there. And in the same vein, my French family make fun of me for saying “ç’est gênant” or “oh how embarrassing,” all the time. A true Britishism.
Mind your Language!
Two nations divided by a common language.
The Brits like to swear a lot. And I mean a lot. Who can ever forget the opening sequence to the quintessentially British romcom, Four Weddings and a Funeral? Or the saucy banter in any of the Carry On films?
The Americans have some really filthy expletives and the French also have their own medley of vulgarities, but here, throwing in the word which rhymes with “duck” in the middle of a dinner party conversation is perfectly acceptable. “Bloody, “sodding” “bugger” “pillock,” “arse” “bollocks,” or “crap” is also permissible. See how these compare to American words such as Xoly Xhit, XotherXucker, and you see where I am going: somehow, the British do it with so much polite je ne sais quoi !
What the Dickens?
On my first trip to England in 1974, my mother’s terribly British friend asked me if I wanted to spend a penny. I explained to her that I was, in fact, “penny-less.” She politely whispered into my ear and explained that here in England, spending a penny meant going to the loo, to which I retorted: “What is the loo?” Oh dear.
Here is a list of my favourite words à la British which make absolutely no sense to the French and the Americans:
- Gobsmacked: amazed, in awe
- Brolly: umbrella
- Gobbledygook: nonsense
- Bob’s your Uncle: there you go!
- Chin wag: to have a conversation
- Dog’s bollocks: great
- Donkey’s years: a long time
- Her Majesty’s pleasure: prison
- Lose the Plot: go crazy; lose one’s mind
- Minted: to have money
- Knees Up: party
- Off one’s trolley: mad
- Slap and a tickle, Rumpy-pumpy, How’s your Father: intercourse
Marmite and other Oddities
I know, the French have some very peculiar national and regional dishes, but there are some extraordinary staples here in the British Isles aussi: a spotted dick, bubble and squeak, toad in the hall, periwinkles, Stargazy pie (non, non, et non!), Angel Delight, Vimto, and a chip butty, to name a few. And “Love it or Hate it” Marmite: I will never forget my first taste of this salty, yeasty spread, whereupon I decided that the Brits were absolutely palatably bonkers. I will admit that after fifteen years of hating Marmite, I have now become a convert.
It’s a miracle the British nation hasn’t had a civil war over the tea-time favourite, the scone. In the first instance, no one can agree on the pronunciation (one which rhymes with gone and the other with tone. I adamantly and uncompromisingly go with the latter).
Then there’s the argument about the order in which jam and clotted cream should be applied: jam first, followed by clotted cream; or clotted cream, followed by jam; or, wait for it, butter, followed by cream followed by jam. Finally, there is the ongoing feud between Cornwall and Devon as to where the cream tea actually originated. After extensive research by Devonians, it looks like Devon might take the prize for this one, the cream tea having originated in a Benedictine Abbey in Tavistock.
My favourite clotted cream comes from Irish cows at the Glenilen Farm. “Off with her head”, I hear you say!
To dunk or not to dunk
Les Britishs are so eccentrique, non ? Another civil war nearly erupted a few weeks ago, when celebrity chef Paul Hollywood dunked his Jaffa cake into his cup of tea on The Great British Bake Off. This act divided the nation overnight and sent Twitter into meltdown. Hollywood was scolded by Berry who said, “we don’t do that in the south, you know.” McVitie waded into the debacle, confirming that a Jaffa is indeed a cake, and that the sponge base is not suitable for dunking into a hot drink. And Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have confirmed that a jaffa cake is a cake and not a biscuit, therefore no more dunking of your Jaffas Mr Hollywood. Tut tut!
And speaking of tea, the Frenchies are bemused at how much tea the Brits drink, especially in a crisis. 165 million cuppas are consumed on average every day in the United Kingdon!
It’s Raining Cats and Dogs.
I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining.
Like Groucho Marx, I love the rain. It rained cats and dogs (one of my favourite sayings) the day I first arrived in England, and didn’t stop raining for days. It was a love at first drop. The Brits love talking about the weather, almost as much as they like talking about their pooches. As soon as a small ray of sun punctures a sky full of cloud, the Brits are out with their barbeques or running out to the DIY shop to buy all sorts for their English Garden.
The French and British have a very different approach to alcohol. In France, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a bottle of Beaujolais for lunch in the same way that a Brit would guzzle a bottle of elderflower pressé. The French drink consistently, but you rarely see them throwing up in the street or getting into drunken brawls.
It’s a source of constant amusement to me to watch the pavements (or sidewalks, if you’re from across the big pond) swell in London town from 4pm on a Friday afternoon. In a country where the weather presents many challenges, I can’t get my head around this strange tradition. Why wouldn’t you want to be sitting comfortably inside, sipping on a chilled glass of wine, watching the world walk by or having a pre-dinner cocktail with your friends? Don’t be daft! The Brits are stoic, won’t let the weather ever stand in the way of a few pints of beer.
And then there’s that strange instrument of torture: the yard. Yes, men actually drink beer from this at the end of a boozy evening. Surely the British stomach must be genetically modified to hold so much liquid?
The Brits have hundreds of synonyms for being inebriated, some of my favourites are regularly used by my brother-in-law, a major in the British Army.
- I got gazeboed last night
- Ming monged
- The four horsemen of the Apocolash
- Pissed as a Tart
- Chunder (this means to throw up) A reverse chunder is another favourite, I’ll let you guess what that means, but it happens when you’re drinking from a yard of ale.
The French have what I call handbag dogs, the ones that fit elegantly into a Louis Vuitton tote, can eat at the table with you, and require minimal poop-a-scooping (in France, it’s good luck to walk in dog excrement, so it’s generously left lying around for unsuspecting flâneurs).
On the British side of the pond, Le Pooch might be to be a little less sophistiqueé. They might spend less time getting their nails buffed, their whiskers waxed and their tresses teased, but goodness are the Brits obsessed with their bowwows. There are dog shows on a regular basis throughout the country, including the world’s largest and most famous, Crufts. There are restaurants which offer dog brunches, shops with dog beer, yoga classes which you can have with your pooch, and packs of dog magazines which woof at you from every newsstand.
Vive the Difference between the French and the British!
Vive la Reine! God Save the Queen!