Oh lord it’s so tedious. Forms to be filled, official documents to be translated by officially approved translators and even more official documents that officially exist in France but that no one has ever heard of in Britain, simply because they don’t exist.
Try this … I have to produce an official document that declares I have (or have not done) my military service in France. And if I have not done my military service, I have to produce another document that explains why. Excuse me; I’m still British and as such …
« That’s okay » says the smiley, bespectacled, nondescript, civil service clone lady at the counter. « All you have to do is write to the French Ministry of Defence asking for a paper that states you are a British citizen and therefore not obliged to do military service in France. »
So, I wouldn’t mind, but for heaven’s sake, I already work for the French army, military service was abolished in France in 2000 and there hasn’t been national service in Britain since 1961 – and here is the next problem.
If I have not done my military service in France, I have to produce a document declaring that I have fulfilled my military obligations in my country of birth.
« Pardonnez-moi Madame, mais il n’y a pas de service militaire en Grande Bretagne. ça n’existe plus depuis 1961. »
« Excuse me, but national service was abolished in 1961 » (Translation)
And all the lady wants (not Fabergé or Ferrero Rocher) is a paper from the British MoD saying that I haven’t done my national service because it doesn’t exist. WOW!
I have to say at this point that the French assume that every administrative paper that exists in France has an automatic equivalent in other countries. Of course if there is no equivalent, all « foreigners » have to produce an official paper stating as much
After this long tirade, you have probably worked out that I am filling out my papers to become French. You can also ascertain that I am having a good old grumble about the whole bloody thing, which in turn means that I have acquired the main trait for becoming French – I have finally learned to grumble, BUT not just grumble. I have learned how to complain. After 25 years in this land, I have not just acquired the mantle of grumbling; I have fully assimilated the full French grumpy, grumbling, complaintive nature. It has become second nature.
Want an example
A Brit on holiday in the south of France. Temperatures in the low thirties, perhaps a couple of clouds in the sky and obviously too many people on the beach, but the average Brit won’t grumble, he is on holiday. Clouds in the sky. It could be worse, it could be raining. Temperatures in the low thirties … too hot, let’s go for a beer and chill out. Too many people on the beach … we’ll just squeeze up AND it is a lovely beach.
And the French
Two clouds in the sky – Oh dear it’s going to rain – or – its bad weather. Temperature in the low thirties – Normally it’s warmer – or – It’s a bit cold – and as for – too many people on the beach – well you can complain as much as you want, this is the height of summer on the Côte d’Azur. So, the French bathers pick their way across beach, complaining vociferously as they go about the Dutch and Germans who are taking up far too much room with their « encampments »
So, I have learned to complain and grumble, though, until last week ‘s trip to London, I didn’t think I had.
I’ll take you from the shores of the Med to an Indian restaurant in Islington – one of the up and coming (or gone and went) areas of London (Yeah, Islington used to be happening and now it has happened so much that all the foreign wannabees have moved in and the British Hasbeens have moved out)
So, after a memorable drink in the King’s Head in Upper Street, with a drunken Romanian barmaid on her Hen Night, we move to the Indian restaurant.
I’ve ordered some kind of lentil dish with fresh tomatoes, I’ve ordered a Bombay potato which also contains « fresh spinach » and I’ve also opted for an onion bhaji.
The lentils arrive and on top is a prize, greenhouse-grown, very spongy tomato, fresh out the fridge, cut into thick slices and plonked on top of the lentils.
First complaint – « This tomato is not fresh or cooked and it is badly-presented. »
Second complaint – The fresh spinach is out of a tin.
Third complaint – This is a frozen, supermarket onion bhaji
Reactions form the waiter
« Sorry sir, but this is what we usually serve and the customers are very happy. »
Reaction from the customer (me)
Well, for the prices you are charging, it should be better.
Reactions form my friends
Just stop complaining and eat the bloody stuff while it’s hot.
So, in the UK, I am complaining about French style stuff. I am ready to become French.
And all week, it has been the same story. From inflated museum prices to lousy coffee to bollocks transport, I have grumbled about everything.
I am ready to become French
On the other hand though, I still have very English reflexes.
We are at the ticket office at Charing Cross Station. I have been waiting ten minutes, and in a lapse of concentration, there are some French people who have pushed in front of me and are in the process of being served. I stride up to them, and in French, inform them in no uncertain terms that they have « pushed in » and that they should stand in line like the ten other people waiting behind me. My future compatriots then tell me that they will only be « a minute », but I insist they queue (with the support of two other French people waiting behind me) and, when the counter clerk actually refuses to serve them, it is reluctantly that the French tourists, shuffle to the back of the line, cursing and swearing as they go.
On the strength this last episode, I wonder if I am ready to become French?
British commentators might say that the French are a miserabe lot – never happy, always complaining or grumbling – However the French are never happy unless they have something to complain about. And when there is nothing to grumble about, well, the French just have a good old grumble about having nothing to grumble about. Complaining is very much the raison d’être of the French.