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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Five things the British do that the French find totally baffling

While the French certainly have some eccentricities that can be baffling to foreigners, the British have plenty of odd quirks of their own. We asked French student Jean-Baptiste Andrieux - currently studying in London - to explain some of them.

Five things the British do that the French find totally baffling
A mere 33km away from France, but the UK is a foreign country Photo: AFP

There is nothing easier than traveling from Paris to London. You simply have to board the Eurostar in Gare du Nord and here you are in the centre of London after a two-and-a-half-hour ride.

However, you have not simply travelled from one city to another. You also have entered a different country with its own customs, some of which are a little bizarre to foreigners. Here are some of the things I don't quite get.

READ ALSO 17 things the French do that make Anglos uneasy


It must be a myth that cricket matches can go on for five days? Surely? Photo: AFP

1. Playing Cricket

Believe it or not, British people take cricket very seriously.

Many people have tried to explain the rules to me, unfortunately all those efforts have been in vain so far. I have been invited many times to attend cricket fixtures, but I am afraid that I might not live long enough to witness the outcome of the game (which I'm told can go on for five days. I'm not sure if that was a joke or not).

2. Being polite

Generally speaking, British people are unfailingly courteous.

Of course, you might come across a few obnoxious characters from time to time, but they are the exceptions proving the rule. It does not mean that people are necessarily genuine, but it is quite pleasant after having endured Parisian grumpiness your whole life.

READ ALSO 13 things foreigners do that make French people feel awkward


British pubs, it turns out, are not just for drinking in. Photo: AFP

3. Having quizzes in pubs

Prior to moving to the UK, I thought that pubs were places where you could enjoy a drink at slightly lesser expense than going out for dinner. 

I then found out that pubs can also be a suitable location to show off your knowledge and to potentially even earn some money (but of course, it never happens). 

4. Being obsessed with politics

French people are often considered to be political animals, but the Brits are certainly on a par with them.

Obviously, the current context in the UK is an unusual one, but you will find the islanders (on both sides of the Brexit divide) will be very eager to share their political beliefs with you.

5. Sending Christmas cards

I was quite surprised when my local friends handed me Christmas cards as the festive season approached. 

I learned shortly after that giving Christmas cards to your friends was a British tradition, one that we do not do in France. I was caught completely off-guard, because obviously I hadn’t prepared anything for them. 


The food is not as bad as I had been lead to believe, and anyway there are plenty of non-British options available. Photo: AFP

But there are plenty of upsides to life in the UK – there's a lot going on, newspapers are varied and interesting, street musicians are in a whole different league to the Parisian 'artiste' churning out La Vie en Rose for umpteenth time on his out-of-tune accordion and the food isn't as bad as Britain's international reputation suggests.

Although that said, I am yet to try Marmite.

Are you a Frenchman or Frenchwoman living in the USA or Australia? We'd love to know your impressions of your new country, so feel free to get in touch at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. With regard to your observation that the British take their cricket so seriously, I can only offer as an explanation a comment made by Lord Mancroft: ” It is game, which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented to give themselves some conception of eternity.”

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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