An article I came across in the Observer presents a documentary made by French journalist and producer Benjamin Carle. In his documentary that is to be shown on French TV, he tries to put himself in the shoes of an Englishman to see what he likes about the English and whether he can see himself as being Frenglish.
Well, I’m proud to say that through no fault of my own, I can tell him exactly how it feels to be caught in the all too frequent tempests that brew in the Channel. I’ve never really thought about whether I’m more English than French, having lived my entire life being both. Brexit has made me reject a lot of my Englishness but deep down it makes me really sad to see a country I love torn to bits over nothing.
Carle has a go at English food of course. I never quite realised how dreadful English cooking is, my mother being French, and having eaten Provençale cuisine during most my tender childhood in London. The closest I got to English cooking was Sunday roast, but even then, it was prepared by someone who could actually cook. I got a taste of what it is to eat English when I visited Norfolk a couple of years ago. Crikey, is it that bad? Mushy peas and uncooked runner beans are, on the whole, quite dreadful. It doesn’t help, of course, that I have now acquired a taste for Peruvian cooking, courtesy of my beloved. But Carle has the cheek to insult those who eat Marmite.
For those who have never come across it, Marmite resembles more a DIY product and leaves a taste in your mouth that lasts until the day after the night before. But I just love the stuff and am so glad to have it here in Holland, a fact that is not surprising since my beloved Marmite is produced by Unilever rather than from fruit plucked from trees in a Kent orchard.
His choice of Liverpool FC as a team to follow is rather unfortunate, but I suppose I must be happy that it wasn’t Manchester United, being a City supporter since I was 10!! Coming from London, it was not very logical that I became a City supporter, but you can find the reason why, here!
Am I ambivalent and confused? Probably – but that’s to be expected when on one passport I’m “George” and on the other I’m “Georges”! One thing I do know is that when I get frustrated by the woman driver (yes, it’s being sexist) who is respecting all the speed limits, I do tend to shout “connasse,” – a word you can look up on Google.
Being Frenglish is not all plain sailing and it certainly doesn’t give me a sense of belonging. On the contrary, it fills me with the feeling that I’m stuck in the middle of two ways of life, two sets of behaviour – in short, two cultures – which explains perfectly why I ended up living in the Netherlands. I only have to look left to see England, and look down to see France. My move also made me think about what it is we all have (or don’t have) with the EU – in particular, its cunning knack of making a mess of nationalities.
I suppose that it is your formative years that determine your cultural affinities. I have now lived 20 years in the Netherlands, and whilst my language proficiency is sufficient to allow me to fully appreciate the Dutch way of life, I will never have the affinity for Dutch culture that the Dutch have, riding a bicycle being a notable exception. It may not help that I speak Dutch with an accent and make mistakes when I write. I’m trying to constantly improve my Dutch but I must admit that I still very much prefer reading English or French.
Some things you are just born with and they remain an integral part of who you are. My eating Marmite and swearing in French define who I am. I keep a very British sense of humour, whilst at the same time listening to RTL’s “Les Grosses Têtes,” whenever I can. No one can change that, not even my Dutch son. When I went with him to Amsterdam to watch a football match between the Netherlands and France, he was supporting “Oranje” and I had the audacity to keep on supporting “Les Bleus.” My real problems, of course, begin when England play France, even though half of who I am cannot lose.
I would be lying if I denied that Brexit were not hurting me, deep down. I am lucky, though, because my French passport allows me to carry on as usual and there is no chance that my professional qualification become suddenly unrecognised (they wouldn’t dare, would they?). But it still hurts because my experience of being Frenglish had tought me that, “l’union fait la force,” (unity is strength). Besides, the French and the English have more important things to do than to quarrel over their similarities and exploit their differences.
Differences? What differences?