An International Student of Literature in England.
France and the United Kingdom aren’t that far away and have a lot in common, so it is not surprising that there aren’t lots of major cultural differences. British humour is often said to be very unique but it’s never particularly struck me – perhaps because I was exposed to British films and culture before moving to Norwich, or perhaps because I’m English at heart.
However, after having lived in England for two years and a bit, I have realised that there are lots of things I assume, think or do that remind people that I am French (just in case they hadn’t realised with the accent… Although a girl once told me I sounded like I came from the Midlands). I can never stay under cover for too long!
Alright guys… Please someone else to me why all students drink so much wine, and super cheap wine?! Wine is a refined form of art. Choosing your bottle of wine according to your guests and to what you are eating requires skills and years of experience. My father stood in the huge alley of wine bottles in our local supermarkets for ages in order to find the perfect bottle more than once… And in England, well it’s quite the opposite! I remember being so shocked during Freshers’ Week because one of my flatmates had brought bottles of wine and I thought “Wow, she’s so refined and posh, she must be rich!” And then I realise that it was just a thing all the students do because wine is quite cheap and people want to get drunk with it. But to me, that’s a capital offense. On the rare occasions when I buy very wine (white, 3 pounds something in co-op or campus shop) I feel I have sinned and disappointed my nation.
Oh, cheese. To be honest, cheese is starting the really disgust me but sometimes I have horrible cheese cravings while I’m in England. I dream of the strong, mature, fruity Comté my mother buys, or melted goat’s cheese on slices of amazing bread.. And then I come back to reality and remember that cheese rhymes with cheddar in England. I’ve had so much cheddar in first year (and always the same type) I can’t have it anymore. Of course, there’s still mozzarella and parmesan but it’s not enough for a French person. Of course, you can get lots of different types of cheese in places like Waitrose – at a price.
But even then, cheese isn’t part of the culture. English people don’t have a shelf in their fridge dedicated to their cheese collection. The very sad thing is, they have no idea what raclette is (I was craving it so much the whole semester and finally had one for Christmas!).
The other day my English housemate and I had a heated discussion about mayonnaise. My point is that I refuse to eat the white thing sold in the UK under the name “mayonnaise” because in France, I have only even seen yellow mayonnaise! I was so shocked the first time I saw white mayonnaise! I realised recently that it’s because Mayonnaise de Dijon has a bit of mustard in. What an epiphany! It’s changed my life. I don’t even like mayonnaise but I’d still only have the yellow one.
Another thing that always makes me laugh is when it gets to autumn or winter and temperatures drop. I usually get prepared to go out to campus as if I was about to leave for a wild expedition to the North Pole: armed with several pairs of socks, a big warm coat, a hat, two pairs of gloves, multiple layers of clothing… And guess what I sometimes see outside? People going out with a thin open jacket! How they survive is a mystery to me…
Norwich can get very cold, especially after Christmas but I consider it’s winter from October to April. The other day I went out without my gloves on and my hands burnt and seemed paralysed after two minutes. The worst is when it’s windy and freezing… And then I look at my phone and see it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer at home, in the South of France, and want to cry.
Talking about the weather… There are some beautiful winter day with a lovely pale blue sky but let’s be honest: 80% of the days are depressingly cloudy. Sometimes I go days without seeing a ray of sunshine. At least when it happens you can truly appreciate it and get to see beautiful sunsets above the lake on campus.
Oh Christmas… People love this time of year so much in the UK that they start it before Halloween!! I’m not kidding! I see adverts and references to Christmas in October. In November, everyone gets hyped and by the 15th of November max, people put up Christmas trees (true story, they did that on campus), Christmas decorations and they start wearing Christmas jumpers! Yes — Christmas jumpers. You’ll never ever see me wear one. And when December starts it’s just insane. All the societies plan Christmas balls and dinners, Christmas-related events, a million Christmas films come out… You have to eat mince-pies and shops make special Christmasy sandwiches (!). So weird.
Out of all these weirds things and confusing moments, some beautiful discoveries were made… Crumpets, cheesecake, real (vegetarian) English breakfast, banana bread, my love or borderline addiction to tea, porridge, chutney… Not to mention amazing TV series…
I am so British.