By Muriel Jacques
I am a French-born self-proclaimed “Yummy Mummy” now living in London. It is fair to say that until recently I was a pure French product: I had been to the right schools and universities and was pretty much expected to climb up the corporate ladder. Oh, and I could barely speak English let alone write it because German was my first foreign language (it is a French thing, it is supposed to put you in better classes- don’t ask…). Anyway, imagine my surprise when my husband found a job in London. Basically, I had two options: change husbands, or change jobs. I chose the latter, and it was the start of a new adventure abroad. I painfully brushed up my English skills only to discover that what I was saying was grammatically correct (most of the time…) but didn’t make the cut. One day, it dawned on me: I was using too few words, and as a result I was perceived to be far too blunt. To be taken seriously over here in London, I need to blabber on, and on, and on.
For instance, I was answering “Yes, I do” to simple questions as I had been taught. Silly old me! I should have said “Well, I sort of said I would…” or “I will certainly consider it in due course”. Eventually I found out that saying “No” in most cases, is incredibly rude. You need to say “I don’t disagree” (don’t fool yourselves, this means that you disagree) or “It is an interesting thought, isn’t it?”, or to simply buy time “Some other time maybe?”
It is all about appearing to be making sense when you are, in fact, talking non-sense and making the whole thing look a lot more complicated than it needs to be. It is also about looking positive and upbeat even if there is nothing to be positive or upbeat about. For instance: you haven’t failed your exam and you are faced with a temporary hurdle. Never say “there is a problem”. Instead you need to remain calm and casually declare “OK, we have a bit of a blooper here”.
Another difficulty for me was to understand that the teachers will never tell you that “you are wrong”. Instead, they will say “This is an interesting mistake. Let’s try to understand why you made it in order for you not to do it again”. A French friend of mine tried to become a lecturer at a renowned London university only to be told a couple of years later that she was too blunt with her students. In short, she was sacked for…being too French!
As you may guess, it was, and still is, a steep learning curve for me. I am not sure that I will get there eventually but I can assure you that I am working hard at it. This is because my brain is wired in a different way. To make matters even worse a long time ago I decided to always be brutally honest with myself, even if it was tough. This meant that I had to deal with some not-so-nice home truths.
Over here I have to learn to think and speak in a different way. It is hard work. It is all about being positive and trying to connect with others. But guess what: an unexpected side effect is that I am happier. For some unknown reason, I have more fun.
And I love it!
Muriel Demarcus Jacques is a French engineer and a lawyer by training.
Born and bred in France, she discovered at 32 years that life outside of France was possible and -shock horror!- even enjoyable when her husband found a job in London and all the family joined him.
However, even after a few years, she struggles to understand the Brits: what do they really mean? How do you speak proper English? How do you know whether your children's school is good?
She decided to write about her journey to understand this whole new world on her blog:
She belongs to a group of bloggers called PBAU (Personal Bloggers Are Us), you can check out their blogs here: