Quintessentially British…. or not.

Good evening to those who remain and still read this blog,

Today’s post will be quite short, unlike the previous ones. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to some bit of reflection. To support my (our) reflection, I will use two examples, of a very different kind. Since I got my job in this very famous luxury retailer, I have been thinking quite a lot about the concept of Englishness.

I was about to simply write a paragraph about it in my dissertation, but today another situation triggered my reflection, which leads us to this post. Today, I surprised my boyfriend and took him to Warner Bross Studios in London for his birthday. This is actually the making of Harry Potter. It was really nice and we had great fun. Now, regarding the choice of actors, a producer explained: “we only wanted British actors for this movie, we decided no American actor should be included, because obviously, this movie is very British”.

Is it really? That first made me smile, but then made me think quite a lot. How British is Harry Potter? He lives in Surrey, and takes the train at King’s Cross, ok. He goes to school in an old school Castle that only Oxford could compete with, fair enough. But what about the rest? I thought it this say was especially funny, because first of all, Warner Bross is not British. You might be interested to know that the Warner brothers were actually Polish jews from Russia, who emigrated to Maryland. Whooohoo! Englishness? I can’t see you!

Plus, Warner Bross is not really directed to a British audience, but more to a worldwide audience, with blockbusters movies. So the idea of Englishness can be understood, when they say the actors need to be British (we can think of the British accent especially). But how English is this “very English” movie? Not that much if you ask me. A movie made by Americans for Americans, or at least in an acultural way.

My second example is, as I referred to earlier, my workplace. Icon of British luxury, actually icon of luxury itself, this store can be seen anywhere. In most airports, you can see its ads. And indeed, unlike Warner Bross, this store is historically very English. Named after its very first owner, it first opened in 1849 (oh yeah, old stuff), as a tiny tea shop. The funny thing is, the store is the largest retailer in Europe, but in one of the huge rooms, you can still see the tiny ceiling that used to be the ceiling of the tea shop. I love this workplace. I had the occasion to work in many very nice places, such as the Negresco Hotel in Nice, which was already 100 year old, but this is something completely else. This place is full of History, of beauty, and many people see it as an attraction rather than a shop. Despite this full time job being hard for me, I can’t help but being proud when I enter this place. Every morning I think “yeah, it is stunning, and this is where I work”. I love the fact that it used to be so small. I love the fact that while going to lunch, I bumped randomly into Penelope Cruz who was looking for the toy department. I love the fact that people want to take pictures with me, because I am this store.  I am part of it, and for that, I feel like I am part of what England probably cherishes the most: English essence.  

But enough talking about how much I love this place, there is a question I still ask myself everyday: How English is it today? It is said to be “quintessentially British”, and it actually wants to be seen that way. Fair enough, when one carries so much History. But today, the store is actually owned by Qatar. On certain floors, you can find a department about Qatari products and essence. And before, it was owned by an Egyptian family. So now, there is a massive (but nonetheless breathtaking) Egyptian escalator worth 20 million pounds. Each year, the store celebrates the Chinese New Year. How English is that? During a certain period of time, the store opens later to allow Arabic customers to come later. How English is that?

I understand there is the business aspect of course, and I am the first to tell you that I do believe in target adaptation more than anything else in the world. But how intelligent is the marketing, to let you believe this store is still British? Actually, very few employees are British themselves.

Ok, this post was not at short as planned, but it leaves you guys with my vision of Englishness and how marketing re-creates it. Marketing is a powerful tool, isn’t it? 

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This very awkward moment when …

Hello there! Here is our weekly topic: these little things that annoy you big time.

Either you are peaceful and extremely patient, or more of a demanding moaning person (like me), there MUST be something that annoys you.

I, personally am annoyed by so many things that it would be quicker to tell you what doesn’t annoy me. I hate when people speak loud, I hate being so close to people in the tube I can actually smell their them, I hate when toilets are not clean, I hate when my room is not dark enough at night, I hate little noises ….. Long story short, I am not very tolerant. Which is a shame, because I am deeply into cultures, and this is probably the social subject that requires the most open minded people. Too bad.

But I think I am also quite sensitive to differences, and I feel very frustrated when people tell me “oh, France, England, it’s the same culture, you must not feel disoriented”. Not true, not true! From all my intolerance, I want to talk about how uncultivated they are for hours. SURE, it is not like leaving India or China for England, the gap is much smaller, but still. Here is how I see it:

First of all, we don’t have the same language. Ok, easy one, but major one actually. If my English level was apparently good enough to work and study in the UK, I am not perfectly fluent, and it shows. If you are a foreigner as well, you definitely know how hard it is to read theoretical books in English. Today for example (which is my day off), I have tried to read some theory for my dissertation, but it just didn’t work. I can’t focus. I am too tired, and I don’t understand what I read. I need to read the same sentence three times, and eventually I don’t even remember where I stopped. Foreign language is a lot of work. It doesn’t work right away. For some, it just never works at all. And even when it does, you can never translate the richness of your mother tongue to the learnt language. I personally always feel like English is less rich in vocabulary, which is actually just because I don’t have the work I am looking for when I speak. I am doomed to make simple sentences, because I don’t know the right words. I am not even mentioning the loneliness I feel when I can’t understand customers at work. So language is the first barrier, and it’s not that small.

Second of all, and quite a drama for a French person, we DEFINITELY don’t have the same culinary culture. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you guys eat badly (although kind of, from my own view), but honestly, I don’t quite get it. First of all, It is always a shock when I am eating with someone who leaves the table when done eating. I mean, WHAT? SERIOUSLY? In France it is an ultimate rule as a kid. If you try to leave the table before everybody is done you will probably hear “What do you think you’re doing?! Ask permission to leave the table first!”

“ok! Can I leave please mummy?”

“OF COURSE NOT!”

I know what you think, eating is like a religion to French. Yes it is! Eating is a sharing moment, a family moment, or a romantic or funny experience, eating is important. As a child, eating was our only moment together as a family, when adults are back from work, children from school. We share things, have serious discussions about politics, religion etc… what matters is, we are together. Actually, when people are leaving, I feel deeply offended. I know I eat slowly, but how rude is it to just leave and go do something else? Or is it just me?

Third, health and safety. Just one example to illustrate. Last week end, I am eating at Chiquito with my boyfriend, Darbi and her very own boyfriend. My bag is hanged on the side of my chair, everything is fine. Suddenly someone is arising from behind me, and by the time I turn my head there is this huge security guy (that I first took for a thief) who says in a very i-am-going-to-teach-you-basic-logic way: “Madam, it is not safe to put your bag here! A second of distraction, and someone could steal your bag before you even realize it’s gone!”  mehh. Fair point Tarzan. But still, I was surprised that it is actually so serious. Health and safety is everywhere “please insure that your personal belongings are kept…”  “this area is regularly used by pickpockets”  “please report any unattended bag or suspicious behavior…”

It seems very funny to me. Because, let’s face it guys, this is all comedy. We are not controlled before entering most places. Anything could happen, the possibility to prevent it is so small…

Fourth, the Queen! Yeah I know, I am a bit into that thing, but it’s stronger than me, I love this Royal family. When I was studying here two years ago, I was in Hyde Park when William and Kate got married. It Is this very day that I decided I belong to England. I had never seen such a joy anywhere else before. Flags, claps, complete silence in the whole park when Kate barely said “I will”. Despite the cold, the rain, and pretty much a whole day of not being able to use toilets, I loved this moment. I found a nation that is proud of its roots. People being able to gather together for other reason that strike (which probably never happened in France since Louis XVI). England is a proud country, and I admire that. I suddenly hated my angry country. I wanted to tell the whole France: look at them! Is it crisis here as well, it is not easier than anywhere else, but for some time they forgot about it, to celebrate together. I am not discussing whether or not monarchy is a good thing, but I like this pride and this attachment to values. I wished France was like that.

Fifth, currency. Beware, it is a massive trap. What matters is not the figure, but the currency! I got used to think “oh, 50£ is fine, it’s like 50€” No no no !!! With this trick you spend a lot more money than you should because you are fooled by currency. And not to mention small coins. I mean, why would 20p be smaller than 2p? What is going on here? When I need to give change to a customer, I always hope he’s not in a hurry, because I am SO SLOW. I get confused over and over with these coins. This CAN’T go on!

I could go on and on, but you got my point, life is not the same, country is not the same, values either. And then there are these little things I don’t understand, like THIS TAP:

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Welcome to my bathroom! Now can someone tell me why is cold water and hot water separated? Seriously? Either frozen or boiling, well done!

Now with this little piece of work, I invite you all to tell me what was the most disorienting abroad!

Have a nice week guys! And don’t forget to visit the most luxurious retailer in the world, there is always something going on!

Anything but Cheddar.

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Hey everybody,

Sorry as usual, it is getting harder and harder to follow and be on time with everything! Today, as promised, FOOD!

As much as I love England, I have to admit something from the most honest part of my heart: I miss French cuisine. YES! I said it! This is not a myth (unlike French people not washing! oh wait….), French cuisine is good. The best I know so far. So yes. I miss my mum’s delicious coq-au-vin, boeuf bourguignon, poulet à la paysanne, and so on. I miss cheese, and by that I mean proper cheese. You cannot imagine this feeling in my heart, when, freshly arrived in England, I first went to the cheese counter of Asda with shinny eyes, and :

“Let’s see what they have! Ok, so this is cheddar, this as well, this too…. Wait, how come the 30 different cheeses are cheddar?”

HOW MANY KIND OF CHEDDAR CAN YOU POSSIBLY HAVE? GUYS! SERIOUSLY!

Cheese is the drama of my English life, along with these terrible “Great value for money” signs. I mean, really? Is that how we do marketing?

Anyways. The main topic of the day is as French as it gets. But let us start from the beginning:

For my birthday, my boyfriend decided we should go to a French restaurant. It was his idea, and the restaurant his choice. The restaurant by the way, is amazing. The food is delicious, and if you arrive and your table is not ready, they will offer you champagne. Definitely a good address if you want to eat well and cheap (and French J ) :

http://lapetiteaubergebistro.co.uk/

The auberge is quite close to the Holloway Rd tube station, on picadilly line. Bon appétit!

Back to the subject, my boyfriend (who is Polish by the way) was very curious to try a very French dish: Frog legs. à If now is the stage where you wonder why my boyfriend does not know French cuisine that well, I will very simply say: I don’t cook. At all.

So as you can see on the picture, and for those who never saw frog legs before, here is what it looks like. Yes, you can say it, it looks like a mini ass. But the taste is very cool. It actually has the texture of chicken, and that is most probably what you taste for the first seconds. But then it starts tasting slightly fishy, in the good way. It is a very interesting mix. Even though it makes me really sad because I love frogs and find them extremely cute, I have to admit it tastes great.

Just so you know: Frog legs are actually eaten worldwide, including in China, Indonesia, Greece, and I even heard in Brazil as well. Why is it so French? I don’t know. I guess being nicknamed “the frogs” doesn’t help J

Anyways, it does taste good, so if you can go past the fact that is it a cute frog you are eating, try it.

Now! I am not saying English food is not cool. Actually, you will be pleased to know that I have been nicknamed “Mushy” as in “Mushy Peas” by the whole department I am working in (which is probably 100 people). Indeed, I love mushy peas and I am ready to fight for it at the canteen if I have to. I am also a big fan of scones, and tea. But honestly guys, I’d work on the cheese thing, for the sake of gastronomy. Even a little piece of Comté, or Saint Nectaire! Life would be so much more colorful!

Anyways! My point is made: French cuisine is cool.

Talk to you very soon !

(On this delicious picture, my other half, discovering frog legs. And by the way, if you look closely you will observe that my plate is filled with breaded camembert… and cranberry sauce! English touch after all, what can you do? 😉 ) 

God save the King!

Hello there!

First of all, sorry about the delay, my Friday off got sacrificed. Now! Today again, my article on food got replaced by a much funnier one (OK, I confess, I so and so dare to write about food, especially about Ricardo’s post on Paris).

So question of the day: Do you know where “God save the Queen” comes from?

History lovers might already see it coming… and for the others, you probably guessed it has something to do with France. BINGO!

So here is the story, from the start.

It all started in January 1686, when Louis XIV got brutally sick. It appeared quite quickly that the King got stung by sitting on one of the feathers of the royal throne. The injury created an abscess on the anus, which normally should have been incised right away to avoid any complication. But doctors were horrified to touch His Majesty’s bottom, and decided to go for soft medicines instead.

After 4 months, and a very sick King, surgeons started to suspect a fistula, and decided something should be done quickly.

Therefore, the First Surgeon, Felix, invented a very small knife that would save the King. On November, 17th, without anesthesia, Louis XIV is operated and in December, the King is officially saved.

To honor the salvation of the King, prayers and songs are created through the Kingdom. Madame de Brinon, First lady of Saint Louis Royal House (nowadays the very famous Saint-Cyr military school), invented a song that would be sang when the King would visit later this year.

In 1714, the song writer Haendel heard the song, and found it so beautiful that he immediately wrote down the lyrics. He then went to London and asked for the song to be translated to English. Here was the result:

God save our gracious King,

Long life our noble King,

God save the King!

Send him victorious,

Happy and Glorious,

Long to reign over us,

God save the King!

As soon as he got the translation, Haendel ran to George 1st, and offered him the song, presenting it as his own creation. George loved it and decided that from that moment, the God save the King would be played at every official ceremony.

And this is how God save the King was created! All thanks to Louis XIV and his anal fistula! Isn’t is a cute story? I thought it was actually perfectly on topic to share this one with you. It is completely true, I checked on several sources!

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I promised I am still working on a post about food… And I don’t want to spoil the mystery but, there will be some frogs! 

Talk to you soon !

New post coming soon! Meanwhile …

Hello guys! 

Sorry I haven’t been posting for a while, this is my first day off in 6 days, and I had to take care of the Film theory module urgently. THEREFORE, no time for my post on food, that will probably come this friday, BUT! As promised, Here are pictures of my crazy cats, to make you wait :=) 

There is something different about them….

 

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France – England, a couple too old to divorce

Hello everyone!

First of all, I have to say I did not plan to enter the eye of the cyclone so quickly, and I was actually planning to write about food (sorry Ricardo!). BUT! As I was traveling back from work yesterday, I found a very interesting article in a not so reliable newspaper. Not to worry, I will explain myself.

So the debate of the day, probably a little controversial is the following: Do English and French like each other?

If the new generations (like me), would most definitely say “of course darling!”, I think it is worth looking deeper.

First of all, I think past constructs present, and therefore my first argument is War. The first “misunderstanding” between France and England starts in 1066, when France (yes, we started the whole thing) embodied by William the Conqueror invaded and conquered the Angle-Saxon Kingdom of England. No more details, but a very impressive figure: more than 35 wars occurred between France and England since then. (Britishbattles.homestead.com) OUI! 35! Despite studying English History in middle and high school, I had no idea it was so much.  But then some of us will say that it was a long time ago, fair enough.

If you don’t like my argument on war and past, let us move on to some more recent things. If the past is not to be taken into account, then why do French and English still pinch each other constantly?

You don’t know what I am talking about? Check this out!

 

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These pictures are as many different covers of “The economist”. And I only took the best ones, but there are plenty more. Don’t be mistaken though, I am NOT questioning the content of the articles. What matters here is the form. How come France is such a good subject? Why do they chose these pictures? Now some of you will say: The economist also criticizes America and the rest of the world. True. But the tone is slightly different. Here, France is represented through very old clichés, not only in the purpose of making people laugh, but also to convey a message. We look ridiculous, let’s face it. And as far as I can remember, there is no such thing in a French media. At worse, you fill find a little caricature at the bottom of a page, and the whole French population will already feel like “France is so cheeky!”

Still not convinced? Here is a last try!

When François Hollande got elected, David Cameron said something really interesting. As some of you might know, François Hollande, as opposed to Nicolas Sarkozy, is socialist. One of his first decisions was to increase tax (which, in case you wonder, is not going to happen because the French Parliament rejected the project). At that time, David Cameron said:

“If the French go ahead with a 75% top rate of tax we will roll out the red carpet and welcome more French businesses to Britain and they will pay taxes in Britain and that will pay for our health service, and our schools and everything else.” (Guardian.co.uk)

OK, 75% tax on revenues is deeply stupid. But by saying that publicly, Cameron knew he was not helping French-English relationship. The funny thing is, according to the Guardian, Cameron really doesn’t like tax avoiders in general. Did I miss something then?

Now back to my introduction, and the article I read yesterday in the tube. You guys have heard that Cameron is considering the idea of leaving Europe. Nothing very surprising, given that England is already an exception within Europe. What matters here, is the reaction of Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister:

‘We’ll roll out the red carpet for UK businessmen if Britain leaves the EU’ (Dailymail.co.uk).

Seriously??

Now do I think about our 35 wars against England when I take the tube in the morning? No. Did I feel slightly ashamed when the Eurostar coming from Paris was arriving at WATERLOO Station? Yes. (Oh and by the way, was it necessary to chose Waterloo? With all the stations you guys have, really?) Do I laugh when I hear “Thank you very much indeed!”? Yes.

But if I personally love England as a whole, with its traditions and its modernity, I do wonder if there is something I am not aware of in French-English relationships.

What do you guys think?

La Grève [The Strike]

Hello there!

My reflection of the day is going to make you smile, if you have lived in France, or if you have been unlucky enough to experience it anyways: The strike.

Now you might have noticed that France is quite often on strike. This fact is the origin of countless jokes from our European neighbors.  To be fairly honest, strike is one of the reasons why France is not to be missed.

In France, if you take public transportation, you are in trouble, at least once every two months. Buses, tube, planes, trains, taxis, you name it.

But let’s not blame it on the public transportations only. Schools and public administrations love strike as well. I do remember desperately waiting for a tramway to take me to school, and after almost 2 hours of struggle, arriving at school and discovering none of my teachers are there because “ y’a grève” [it’s strike day].

At that stage, I decided not to talk about Air France, on strike EVERY SINGLE TIME I have decided to take the plane (and YES, I do take the plane a lot, since I lived in Nice for a while). I don’t know how they do it, seriously. I flew to New York, Lille, Nice, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, London, and every time, Air France was endlessly on strike. What does it mean? Well, it means that either you wait for several hours in the airport (and definitely miss your connexion), or you just never leave. But don’t worry! The good part of it is: They are sorry.

Now at that point you might think “oh well, at least they fight for their rights”. Indeed, they do. In fact, it is because France is a historically socialist country that we end up being constantly unhappy. What I mean is, France has the (bad?) habit to take for granted everything. In France, you can never go back. Let us take two examples.

First, weekly hours of work. Some of you might know that the standard amount of worked hours a week is 35. It used to be more. But Martine Aubry once decided that 35 would be perfect. Major mistake. Less work, less productivity, less money etc… Governments who followed that one desperately tried to get rid of the 35hours. But forget about it; you never take away from France what you once gave her.

Second example: age of retirement. Previously 60 year old, it seemed fair in our economical situation that this is not a suitable idea anymore. Therefore, Sarkozy changed this law into 62 year old. BIG DRAMA. People in the streets, everything on strike, France could not believe her eyes. Well, at that time obviously, none dared to say that in 2010 already, England was retiring at 62.5, and Norway 64.4 [Reuters, 2010]!

These two points illustrate my main idea: France historically doesn’t know how to back up, even if it is vital for her. Social achievements should never be taken away, no matter the economical urge.

The good news is: Media are here to keep us updated. No matter the strike, you always have the angry parent/passenger, red face and big gestures at the camera, saying that it’s scandalous how we are “hostage” of the strike. On the other hand, you always have the patient and comprehensive person who thinks “oh well, we can only wait anyways” (You can be this one is not taking a plane she/he booked months in advance!)

When I was raising this point at university in France, a few years ago, a professor told me “well, do you know that England has the highest rate of strike hours in Europe?”. I tried to investigate this point, but could never verify this information anywhere. What I replied is that even though that was true, I couldn’t recall being stuck all the time in transportation or administrations. Since then, I have to admit that I was in big trouble on Boxing day, when the tube stopped working.

Finally, I will leave you to a little reflection. I had this biology teacher, strongly socialist, totally revolted, and always “on strike”. This teacher decided not to show up on our A-Level ultimate revision. This was a very stressing episode for us especially that biology was worth 1/3 of my total A-Level grade. When the teacher came back, I decided to ask “what is the issue this time?”

The teacher replied to me “well, we are mad”

“mad at what?”

“well…. All the teachers are mad anyways! Ask someone else!”

Clearly, he did not know why he was on strike. Probably like a good percentage of them all. Now do you think strike could have become a way to stay warm at home instead of expressing a big anger?

 

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