As some of you may be aware, I live in France, although I am (somewhat!) English. This week I have been pondering various aspects of the differences between French and English culture as seen from a somewhat historical perspective; I have consulted numerous reference books in order to gain an insight into the respective English and French positions.
One of my sources was a delightful book called Cours d'Anglais by L Guitard and L Maraudet, which is designed to introduce French people to the delights of both the English language and the way of life in Britain. I believe it was written in about 1960.
I looked first at the section entitled:
A Woman's Work in the House
Saturday being a holiday, the Morrisons have their lunch at home. Mrs Simpson, the charwoman, prepares it for them. Mrs Simpson is cutting up potatoes with a knife. The hot fat for the chips is waiting on the gas cooker. Bruce likes the smell and begs.
'Behave yourself, Sir!' says Mrs. Simpson, 'Your mistress will be here in a minute.'
Hmm, I shall not attempt to delve into the complex mysteries of the respective attitudes of the French and English towards the subject of mistresses and the like, but with regard to holidays, in my opinion, the French have, in their usual way, made the most of an already good thing. If the holiday happens to fall upon a Tuesday or Thursday, it is of course logical to take the Friday off too; Monday quite often being a holiday anyway (le weekend being such a strain); and Wednesday being of course a half-day (well, one needs a break mid-week!) This is technically known as 'faire le pont' (to make the bridge); although 'faire le point' might be more appropriate!
So, given that we have all this free time on our hands, what shall we do with it?
In yet another guide to the mysterious ways of the British, published in 1957;
Meet Britain advises that: 'The British party is usually very gay'; which may well be the case; one would certainly expect to find the 5 classes of elegant gentlemen present:
- Squire: Aristocratic, rural, riding breeches or plus-fours and ferruled walking stick
- Clubman: Urban, discreet, old school tie, homburg or bowler and rolled umbrella
- Intellectual: shapeless grey flannel trousers and wilted mackintosh
- White Collar: Distinguished lower-middle class, pinstripes, portfolio or briefcase
- Man in the Street: cloth cap, waistcoat, shirtsleeves and possibly dungarees
This would possibly imply that the British have a class system, which is far from the case in France; they merely (I am told) have slightly different varieties of 'bourgeoisie' and, in general, the French treat these petty distinctions with indifference, realising that at the end of the day, it is in fact the middle of the day and thus time for lunch.
Unless you are actually sitting in a bar or restaurant during the hours of 12.00 - 2.00; the average British tourist would assume that 95% of the country is either uninhabited or the residents are asleep.
This is far from the case. Not only are they indulging in fine cuisine (and the accompanying wine of course); but they are inevitably engaged in 'sérieux' debate. It is a little known fact that, before being asked to vote in the referendum in 1992,the entire population received a copy of the Maastricht Treaty. What is astonishing is that most of them actually read it.
Erm, 'surrender monkeys'? I think not.
Possibly a load of bosh in fact; the type of prating that only a cad or a blackguard might utter!
Well, one thing that the English language does have is an abundance of frightfully delicious words and phrases, as I discovered when idly leafing through an etymological dictionary (as one does). Try these for size:
- tramp: Nope, not that old dosser in the bus shelter but 'a cargo steamer engaged in general trade'.
which might be carrying a load of
- gutta percha: 'the sap of trees found in the East Indies, producing a substance similiar to rubber,used particularly for insulating telegraph cables.'
or even of course, that favourite of stevedores the world over
- basic slag: which everybody realises is: 'powdered refuse from the manufacture of steel, used as a manure.'
this might usefully be shifted by wielding a
- mattock: 'a kind of pickaxe with only one handle'
The mind boggles yet again. I shall return to The School Friend Annual of 1954 without further ado:
'R-Ray Flashman!' breathed startled Jo.
And now Ray, a diffident smile on his face as he carefully up-ended the white, glistening pole.
'Morning, Miss Jo! What do you think of it?' he inquired. 'Twelve feet high if it's an inch, and newly painted!'
That evening, with Tom's help, she erected it in the paddock. And how thrilled her four young pupils were the next morning.
Do remind me next week to start off by telling you of the Home of Today's advice on 'The Importance of Caning'. (bring your own pillows and a smooth, light switch.)