Stranger on a Wet Tuesday Morning.

Long time, no blog. Caught up with work and life and such like. Casting a dubious eye across the Channel at the Brexit debate. I am just wondering if Britain does leave the European Union, will I keep my job?  Time to rush out and get French nationality before it is too late. The first of a few posts on acquiring French nationality

Becoming French

Day One

08h20 – ominous grey skies and light rain, though I dare say that the heavens will open later and deliver a deluge of Biblical proportions; if weather were a parameter in this nationality thing, I am not sure that this would be the most auspicious day to launch my bid to become French.

Standing in line outside the local “Prefecture” – that administrative office where the “authorities” deal with documents as diverse as passports, driving licenses, residency permits, ID cards … BUT, NOT FRENCH NATIONALITY and NOT ON A TUESDAY.

A pointy nose bespectacled lady at the “Service des Etrangers” – informs me that despite her physical presence behind the counter, her service is actually closed on Tuesdays – today is Tuesday and anyway the service no longer deals with nationality – all that is done on line – to this end, she hands me a small card bearing the address of the pertinent website.

A few comments and questions

What do you do if you haven’t got Internet?

Who decided that the Service des Etrangers should be closed on a Tuesday?

Why are all ladies in French administration all speccy and pointy nosed?

Couldn’t the “Service des Etrangers” be given a more upbeat and friendly title? I mean in this very PC and image-conscious age, the term “Etranger” is just a bit harsh. “Etranger” – foreigner or simply stranger. I suppose (technically) I am foreign, ie, not French, but I am no stranger and neither am I strange. “Etranger”- as if, not being French were strange. Hey, let be normal, let me be French!

I’ve lived here longer than I ever lived in the UK – truth is, I never really thought of myself as living in Britain, or even being “British (whatever that is), people ask me where I’m from and I say “London”, though of course I’m not a “true Londoner”- just one of these ersatz suburban types, born of provinicial parents. As a teenager, I tried hard to cultivate my London ID – we were on the edge of “London Calling” and we all wanted to talk like streetwise London kids, we wanted some working class cockney with a dash of Brixton street talk – how you spoke was what you were (or were trying to be.)

So, I’m south east, suburban, ersatz Londoner

British or English????

Scottish mum, English dad, Irish great grandparents. I suppose this makes me British, though I possibly lean more to my Scottish roots. My English dad died when I was a young kid, leaving big brother and myself, in a dysfunctional Scottish family unit; mum and Gran both Scots living in South London – true ex-pats, almost more ex-pat than myself living in France.

After she retired from teaching, mum considered moving back to Scotland – “back home”. She had never felt “at home” in the strange land called England. She always thought the English to be mean and narrow-minded, all stuck in Empire and still living in the War.

Having received ostensibly a “Scottish” upbringing at home, I could understand what mum meant. I had a couple of friends at school who had Scottish parents – when I went over to their houses, everything was home-made and homely from the welcome to the piping hot tray of pancakes sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be devoured, and as I got older, there would always be a “wee dram”.

The “welcome” in English households was never the same. It was always at best indifferent and at worst, mistrustful, latent hostility, like “what do you want round here?”

Call it the “Tea” thing (a lesson on the cultural nuances of “some” and “any”)

As an English teacher by trade I always teach (as I was taught)

Would you like some tea? (The tea is made, it is hot, it’s in the pot and you are very welcome to a cup, and even if there is no tea made it is absolutely no bother to make you a cup.)

Do you want any tea? (Yes, you might just get a disobliging cup of tea.)

You don’t want any tea, do you? (Because you are not getting any, even though there is a full pot of tea on the table which I would rather pour down the sink than share with you.)

The Scots will say “would you like” and The English …

“Do you want some tea?” – a good “British” compromise.

And in London we might say “D’ya fancy a cuppa?” in a thick “Cockney” accent, but if you want to be a true Londoner: “D’ya fancy a cup of Rosie?” (Rosie Lee = Tea) – And who speaks like that nowadays? Not true Londoners (if there are any left.), I think the good old Cockney slang got drowned our or washed away with Estuary speak.

I have digressed. Suffice to say, the further north you go, the friendlier people get. I guess that mistrust of and hostility to strangers is a southern thing.


To be continued