Recently, I was lucky enough to break away from the mundane existence of a working week to the sunny and snowy peaks of the French Alps. The primary function of this escape was to attach my feet to lengths of a mix of carbon fibre, plastic and metal and throw myself down a side of a mountain in the name of fun. To that end, I comfortably achieved my goal. A more unexpected musing that I have never really considered before is, we are really rather different from the French aren’t we? I have been there countless times before, but have never truly pondered the dissimilarities of our nations.
They say that we are two nations divided by language, a moderately sized body of water, politics, preferences for food, fondness for berets and connected by a tunnel, and as far as I am aware, that still holds true. But as I stood in a mountainside restaurant holding the door open as an endless procession of French people walked passed me looking at me confused as to why a stranger was showing them this alien form of courtesy, I got to thinking that there are more differences than I first anticipated.
Predominantly, these are very rude folk who I am very tempted to slam the door on.
But I don’t think the slopes of a ski resort are a good place to evaluate a nation, not in France at least as I seem to have stumbled on a true Jekyll and Hyde scenario. Out on the slopes the French can, and often do, come across as the most obnoxious people you can meet. You get back to your apartment complex after a long day skiing still fuming at the rudeness of those around you and in your rage-induced haze you bump into a French pedestrian. You stand there twitching for a fight, but all of a sudden you witness a transformation.
This French person standing before me was a pleasant and friendly person willing to try conversing in a language that is not his own. It’s like talking to an average premier league footballer talking about his enjoyment of kicking balls into netted boxes and giving 110% but then out of the blue he summarises the basic principles of quantum mechanics in two sentences. It’s unexpected and throws your original perceptions into a shady confusing area of doubt in the back of your mind.
A point of particular importance is that this French man was able to comfortably converse with me in English. Despite my misconceptions of the citizens of the nation I was currently invading for pleasure, I started thinking about matters closer to home.
Frankly many nationalities put the English to shame when it comes to the subject of language. We travel the world safe in the knowledge that we will find someone who speaks fluent English. Often the only phrases a Brit will learn before a holiday is “do you speak English?” and “where can you find alcohol?”
I myself have a basic knowledge of German, a less than basic grasp of Spanish and my French vocabulary is limited to no more than 10 phrases. 9 of those 10 being useless. To my shame found myself as a participant of the following conversation on a chairlift.
- Le French Man: Bonjour
- Le Me: Bonjour
- Le French Man: (Instantly recognizing a British accent) Ah you are English? I can speak with you, I speak English very well.
- Le Me: Yes your English is very good
- Le French Man: Do you speak any French?
- Le Me: (pause for thought) Mon singe aime le piscine
- Le French Man: (dissolves into laughter as I’d just told him my monkey loves the swimming pool)
Fortunately the ride on the chairlift didn’t last much longer for me to show up more of my complete lack of effort in French lessons at school. The point I’m trying to make is this – yes the French are different but we English are judgmental gits who don’t try hard enough.
One time in a fit of rage while skiing, I described the French Alps as “a lovely place, shame about the people”. The thing is, I could easily say the same thing about Liverpool. And when I say we English are judgmental, I am probably just speaking for myself.
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