by Muriel Jacques
June is always a busy month in London. It is the time of summer parties. I seem to be having drinks with friends, former colleagues and parents from my children’s school every night. It feels like my long hibernation is finally over. It is really nice to catch up with everybody. After the best part of eight years in London, I pride myself in the fact that I have some British friends. Don't smile, it is not that easy, it took me a long time, and I just have a few!
London is an international city with plenty of different nationalities and initially my friends were everything but British. I don't really know why. The only reason that I can think of is that as we have no family here, we tend to befriend people in the same situation.
Anyway, along the road I managed to gain a few British friends. The funny thing is that I found them a bit distant initially. Every time I was trying to get to know them better it felt as if they were shutting down. Not nice. I remember asking a good friend of mine whether she has found a new boyfriend only to be told quite coldly that she wasn't discussing these things. I was slightly taken aback and later found out that she was going out with a work colleague. We eventually discussed the relationship some 5 years after its start (it became difficult to hide when they had a baby together)!
But who said that the Brits never open up? You never know when, you never know why, but, occasionally, they tell you slightly more than you expect. It happened with a friend of mine, who, after some glasses of wine, explained to me that she had bought new undies: bright red ones- and that "it might finally spice up her nights with her husband, as they haven't done anything for 2 weeks"! Right! A bit too much even according to French standards.
The Brits also have a convoluted way to talk about what matters to them. I remember a work colleague who had just had a baby. He told me once that he and his wife had not had any time at night to read a book "let alone do anything else".
That's it, I thought, I am now an agony aunt! I didn’t know what to say, so I just muttered "give it some time" and hoped that the matter would be closed. It was. Phew!
That being said, apart from these two instances (in 8 years), drinks with my British friends have always been very civilized and we haven't talked about anything that could hurt anyone. When things get too personal, we switch the conversation to the weather and it does the trick every time.
Catching up with my French friends is indeed very different. Nothing is off-limits for them and I often have to make my excuses and leave before the conversation takes a turn that I don’t like. Embarrassing anecdotes surface after a few drinks, especially extra-marital affairs and marital issues. I caught up with a long-lost friend recently and he told me that he would love to see my ex-flatmate (the one I was in university with) because they had a short-lived affair at the time. I would like to point out that he is happily married and a father-of-3 now. I was shocked.
As a result, I can't completely chill out with my British friends because I never know what is "too much" for them and I am sure that I tend to over-share. As for my French friends, I know that they will want to discuss personal matters and I feel very uncomfortable when such conversations start.
Where does this leave me? Well, I don’t know. Maybe I need to make more Aussie or Irish friends?
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:
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