Please forgive me for not posting over the next few weeks. I shall be in the bosom of that miraculous nebula that is the French healthcare service but hope to return to work soon.
I would like to thank everyone who visits this blog, for their readership and/or comments and their participation in a conversation about France and Britain that has so far been fascinating to me.
A tres bientot.
have just finished your wonderful book, I so enjoyed it.
Was sad to hear you are not well. Hope you recover
quickly. Delighted I have found your blog.
Enjoy your site very much. Merci!
A well-known New Zealand political journalist was recently interviewed on radio after a spell in France. He was asked to describe his impressions of that country. His reply was short – he recommended that people read “The Secret Life of France” if they wanted a true insight into French culture and customs.
My sister related this story to me, and suffering from a severe case of culture shock myself, I immediately went out and bought the book. It was a revelation. Reading it hasn’t cured my malady, but at least my confusing symptoms have been clearly diagnosed by your brilliant book.
I left England at 16 and have spent the lat 50 years in Australia and New Zealand. I met my French wife in New Zealand in 1992, and since then have nurtured a secret wish to live in France. For various reasons, we finally took that decision nine months ago; she somewhat reluctantly.
When the honeymoon period living in this beautiful country was over, the reality of cultural difference set in.
It’ a familiar story. Months of frustration trying the find a way through the compost heap that is the French administration has left us disillusioned. We have struggled with rude and unhelpful public servants and telecoms employees who seem to have no conception of customer service. Being something of a free thinker, it has been difficult for me to come to terms with the crushing conformity apparent in France and that the notion of ‘status’ is so well-entrenched. No flirting with the checkout girls here. I’m tempted to tutoyer everybody just to see the reaction. It’s only being friendly after all.
My wife is feeling less French than ever, having great difficulty relating to the country she left 20 years ago. It’s a familiar syndrome apparently, with French people who have spent long periods abroad. Despite the temptation to return to a country where things are a good deal less complicated, we will continue to focus on the many good things France has to offer, and re-read “the Secret Life of France” at regular intervals.
I have since very much enjoyed reading “Greater Love” and am looking forward to starting “Lost” which arrived in the post today. If I can pay you the greatest compliment I can – my literary hero Graham Greene would have loved your writing. I hope you are well now and send you my best wishes.
Last night, over a good meal near La Madeleine, I was recommending your book to friends (who, like me, have lived in France for 30 years or more) as it is bedside reading for anyone who comes to stay.
While checking website details to send to them, I came across your blog which is interesting in itself in terms of the comments – what a motley crew we are, the cross-Channel (long-term) expat community!
I did so enjoy meeting you at Shakespeare and Co in the summer, and now learn you might be poorly? Do take care – the French system is ….awfully good.
In the meantime, it may please you to know that recommendations of your book are spreading “virally”, or some such newfangled term, and by next year you may be recording a Christmas message on YouTube for your faithful readers.
I heard Prado in Madrid is closed en Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is closed. Hope Louvre is still open!!
Miss you blog…
Correction to last paragraph. The wine is American, the label is from a French poster from the late 1800’s
Hope you are (by now) recovering from your medical treatment. I miss seeing your blogs. As a Southern American, I am fascinated with Europe. I read the posts written by you and others, and realized how insular my life is, particularly with regard to the history and politics of Europe and the Middle East. I know and understand so little, but am learning.
I am intrigued by the recent news of Iran’s opposition to a scholarship offered by Oxford in memory of Neda, the woman who was recently killed during election protests in Iran. While I was in Oxford this past summer (my son studied there for about 6 weeks), I was approached by a group asking for signatures on a petition being sent to Iran. The petition requested that (I’m paraphrasing here) Iran citizens be given the right to voice opposition without fear of retaliation. I remember Neda’s plight being discussed.
Also, you might find it interesting to know that the state where I live banned a bottle of French wine from being sold here because of the sultry image of a nude woman present on the label. I find the hoopla amusing, because apparently the label has existed since the late 1800’s
Get well soon.
Read your last post. Wondering if all is okay. I’m back in Paris after a long stay in the US. A Book About Death went gangbusters… take a look: http://abookaboutdeath.blogspot.com/
Hope to see you soon… all the best,
I was interested by your comments about the wounds caused to you by (or in?) France and how this impacts our sense of place and identity. I left England for ten years, to discover, on my return, that I had been in some sense an emotional refugee during my time away.
And now back in rural France, I have to say I am much happier. You might find a book I wrote on the subject of leaving your mother country and then returning to it of interest (A Place in My Country http://www.amazon.co.uk/Place-My-Country-Search-Rural/dp/0753823888/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235732120&sr=8-1
Indeed I would be fascinated to read one written by yourself.
When I left England a friend said to me, don’t worry, good people always find good people and I think this is true. I am sure it will be for you too, given time. One is not obliged to embrace a country, or even a region or a department. One’s own commune will do. By avoiding, on the whole, main stream national media, it’s quite easy to reconfigure the physical and cultural boundaries of the society we choose to live and participate in.
A quick perusal of previous ‘threads’ chez Lucy should settle any qualms you might have, albion. I’ve bared my Anglo breast enough to fill several ‘Moulin Rouges’… Not something that can be claimed by most of your fellow-countrymen.
Sacrebleu Charles, I made a ‘faute de frappe’ !!
Can I now expect a response to the various points raised in my grossly anglophobic rant? (mostly in jest rest assured, after I do live amongst your fellow subjects)
I know that class is a taboo subject in the UK (xenophobia and warmongering are just just about the only genuinely shared values in this class-ridden society), but I would enjoy so much a ‘riposte’ (just try a bit harder than the ‘F’ factor – I am sure you can do better …)
‘I, a Frenchman, love living in the UK, making a fortune ripping off inumerate Brits’ [albion]
Hopefully not yet illiterate, though…?
Oh Lucy… are you ill? My best wishes and masses of love for a safe and speedy recovery.
Mon dieu, aren’t the French (they are all the same you know …..) dreadfully rude and sexist. Quelle horreur, really !!
Ah …. the sharing of endless cups of tea with welcoming Mancunian neighbours (I am told Moss side is particularly friendly area, populated with sophisticated and peace-loving picturesque Northerners, can you confirm?). I can’t imagine why you ever left this fine place for a ghastly French ‘trou’, full of ghastly ‘ploucs’ ……
You must see the dreaful mistake you made moving to France, you poor thing. England is still there you know, always welcoming …..
So, why don’t you come back and enjoy the rest of your life, being cared by the wonderful and free NHS, away from the throttling French bureaucracy.
I, a Frenchman, love living in the UK, making a fortune ripping off inumerate Brits (vivent les privatisations thatcheriennes !!) whilst amusing myself enormously watching the drunken obese tabloid-reading natives chavs who make Inger-Land such a beacon of culture and civilisation.
And even more exciting is the ‘frisson’ life in Britain can bring when British born and bred Moslems, these fine exemples of Britain’s great multicultural and tolerant society, perform ritual bombing suicides on the London Undergound. You have to admire this display of confidence and sense of identity – something the Beurs from the ‘quartiers difficiles’ have yet to emulate, so oppressed are they by the racist French. led by their fascistic sex dwarf.
Come back Jocelyne, all is forgiven
Dear Ms Wadham
I see that you are out of circulation for a while but perhaps you still read comments?
I am writing, for the first time ever in a blog, for a number of rather serendipitous reasons.
I have your experience in reverse, spending 34 years in Britain, leaving France at the age of 23. Quick arythmetic will tell you that I am considerably older than you.
I, too, found my first marriage (to a Brit) floundering, but only after 6 years. My mother, clearly, had the wild hope that I would return. But divorce is stressful enough without adding relocation to it, so I stayed and proceeded to patch up and grow up. In fact, I had also had a very unhappy time in France and was glad to escape. The problems were connected a rather harsh education system and an insular family life. Both, I see from your book, are still current. You, on the other hand, have positive memories of Britain and had difficulties settling down in France.
We, my second husband and I, have now settled in the Cevennes and I was rather amazed to note you live there too! If I may ask: where? We have been living 7 km away from Le Vigan (Gard) since May 2009! I wonder how you ended up here. Of course, it is the most stupendously beautiful area but it is still relatively unknown. Well, I only discovered it when travelling South to go somewhere else and simply gasped!
So, I am now back in France, rather reluctantly. A British friend sent me your book. It is not one I would otherwise have read, because I have little interest in things French, still nursing very old wounds. I read it as a duty to her.
Fortunately, you make the subject readable and entertaining and I simply devoured it. I could quibble on various details. For instance, I do not equate a criticism of Israel with antisemitism and would only say that Jose Bove’s remark is speculation. As you explain later about Algeria, governments kill for political reasons and can be pretty ruthless, so Bove’s analysis is not completely mad. On the other hand, I agree that antisemitism is rather more marked in France and I would say you’ve got France right in the main. You certainly have the advantage of superior knowledge!
I note with amazement that your childrens’ educational experience matches mine perfectly. I am lucky to have been born bright and hardworking, so I did well but I was still very put off.
It is when I first landed in Britain (Manchester Victoria station,1975, just imagine!) that I noted the cultural differences and the awful food (things have changed), the awful carpets and the pervading humidity and cold, with useless heating systems. I cannot say when I stopped noticing but I became fully acclimatised fairly quickly. Being madly in love with hubby number one helped enormously, of course. Now, I am noticing cultural differences all over again and I have to say that my first experiences were not very positive.
We have found people to be less friendly on first approach. We have been left standing outside somebody’s house, chatting for an hour, without any offer to enter and sit down. We have gone to an aperitif organised by the commune and found nobody to welcome newcomers. Even our neighbours did not bother to introduce us to the people they know. The absence of the cup-of-tea ritual is sharply felt. The cup of tea enables an ad hoc welcome without commitment. Also, the Brits do clubs and associations rather well. So it turns out that the Northerners are warmer! Quite unexpected.
That said, we are finding lovely people here too and have encountered great generosity since these first experiences.
I presume I do not need to tell you about officialdom. Compared to Britain, the procedures are extremely slow and there is a general lack of responsiveness and accountability. Letters, as a rule, are not answered. It took me four months to obtain a “carte vitale”, two months for the form to come through, two more months to get it changed to my name (I use my maiden name and I am invariably called Madame + hubby’s name, and that’s when I don’t simply vanish as the “spouse”. I am amazed you had to impose your married name as it seems automatic!).
Yes, the health service here is magnificent (I fear this is about to change) but it also costs a lot more, something you do not mention. By the time we have paid for the “mutuelle” and the CMU, we will be £1500 out of pocket whilst we paid nothing now in Britain.
Finally, I am really narked about sexism here. You do not seem to be too exercised by it, putting the positive gloss of the love of life, lively eroticism and the fun of seduction on it. I really bristle with indignation here and I have to check my tongue. Yesterday we visited acquaintances. The lady of the house was out shopping, alone of course. She was clearly very busy preparing for the arrival of guests for a week. Hubby remarked that wife had been “running around” rather a lot as if it was some kind of affliction. We discussed the fact that they have a cleaner. Yes, wife wanted it and that was OK because she was otherwise very modest in her clothing, cosmetic and jewellery needs! Cleaning was, clearly, her look out, whereas all the very gleaming and expensive machinery that I saw around was a general household expense. Unreconstructed they certainly are. A bit of PC therapy would not come amiss.
And what of the cost of everything? How did the French, rebellious as they have the reputation to be, get saddled with credit card charges, bank charges on everything, expensive Internet and telephone, expensive postal charges (20g indeed!), membership fees for public libraries, very expensive books, very expensive film processing, higher taxes… Is this offset by the cheaper stuff (eg. classes and activities, local taxes)?
I am not quite as unhappy here as the above makes it sound! In fact, I have great hopes of a much improved life, having become quite jaded by life in the London area (you, ditto with Parisian life!). But I am not embracing France as I embraced Britain, keeping it at arm’s length at first, carefully looking for and nurturing all the good that comes to us and, perhaps, in time, healing the old wounds and making peace. I suppose that makes me “apatride” for now. Can you be French and not a francophile?