“The best thing I know between France and England is the sea.” Douglas William Jerrold (1803-57) – British writer.
If you think that you understand what being British is about, well think again. Little things will betray you, this much I know.
Especially if, like me, you happen to be French. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I am always ‘the French one’. My friends and colleagues still consider me to be French, despite the fact that I have been living in London for the best part of 14 years.
So what do you need to do to be British? Here are a few pointers if you are in the same situation. Good luck!
1. Buy a pair of wellies
Over in the UK, wellies are not just plastic boots. They are a way of life, and a sign that you love walking in the mud. For a quintessentially British look, wellies must be worn with short pants or even a mini-skirt.
2. Don’t take some expressions too literally
Now take a deep breath: touching base has nothing to do with, actually, touching your base (or anyone else’s). Likewise, when you are being called ‘Darling, Sweetheart or Pumpkin’, don’t worry. They don’t really mean it.
It’s so complicated that nobody understands it. The truth is that you can’t escape from parking fines, even with a smile and your French accent. And it’s a rip-off (at least £60!). Take the Tube.
Photo: Euro Slice/Flickr
4. Christmas Parties
Now repeat after me: what happens at the Christmas party stays at the Christmas party. Yes, even if your boss was so drunk that he started riding the fire extinguisher.
5. Learn to love M&S nighties
British women love nighties from Marks and Spencers, even if they can only be found in dotted or floral prints (sometimes with both). If, like me, you don’t understand how a guy can fancy a woman who sleeps with socks and M&S nighties, shut up. Bite your tongue. Just nod.
6. Don’t fight the stereotypes
If you are a French woman living in the UK, you just became an incredibly glamorous creature just by crossing the Channel. Get over it. Go with the flow. It will save you a lot of time.
Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr
7. Send a card
Over here, there is a card for every opportunity. If you want to be polite without being too involved, just send the right card. From I'm-sorry-you-are–leaving to You-are-a-nasty-piece-of-work card, I am sure that you will find a card with the right message.
Photo: Bryan Siders/Flickr
8. Don’t jump the freaking queue
Yes, even if you are in a hurry. It’s all about manners. Suck it up. You can get away with murder provided that you have good manners.
9. Stiff Upper Lip
If you are upset, you are not supposed to show it. The proper attitude is to pretend that you are completely fine, and to go to the pub at the end of the day to get properly sloshed.
10. Your ethnicity or sexual orientation don’t matter, except for statistical purposes
When you start a job, be prepared to fill many questionnaires about your religion, sexual orientation, etc… In France, such questions would be illegal. Over here, the nurse’s first question at the hospital when I was going into labour was what my religion was. I couldn’t believe it.
11. Try some British specialties
Despite the fact that complaining about the food in the UK is the favourite pastime of most expats, British cuisine will pleasantly surprise you. I especially recommend lemon drizzle cake, sticky toffee pudding, mince pies, a good Sunday roast and fish & chips. Avoid lardy cake, rainbow cake and jam roly-poly at all costs.
12. Talk about the weather
You can’t get wrong if you stick to this rule.
13. Understate, understate, understate
Boasting about a major achievement is frowned upon. In doubt, keep silent. You don’t want to upset anyone.
14. Learn to love Shakespeare and cricket
Just fake it. Trust me, your life will be so much easier for it.
15. Accept that you’ll never be considered 100 percent British
It’s a fact of life. Even with a British passport people will still ask you where you are coming from. Just answer ‘from around the corner’. You might not be fully British, but at least you’ll sound like a local.
For more tips, read Muriel’s debut book “Le Guide Officiel To Being British”, available on Amazon here.