Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Frenchman Abroad

When Understanding Frenchman agreed to spend Christmas with thirteen members of my family and their friends, we joked about the fact that there were bound to be plenty of moments when he was expected to represent the other 59 999 999 French people as well as himself. He declared that he was up to the challenge and decided that if the situation became tense, he was just going to pretend not understand what was going on, but anyone who has been in that situation will know just how awkward it can be at times, especially given some of the negative stereotypes that French and British people have about each other.

I was sitting at the other end of the table when he was asked what the feeling was in France about the potential British exit from the EU, but he seemed to handle the question with a perfect balance of honesty and diplomacy. And in fact, what was more interesting than the international relations questions was the way people interacted with him in situations involving food and wine.

To put this into context, I would say that Understanding Frenchman knows about as much as any ordinary French person about these two subjects, which is to say, perhaps a bit more than the average Brit, but without being any kind of an expert by French standards. We eat in nice restaurants every so often, but home cooking in both of our families is similar: wholesome and tasty but completely unpretentious. We have friends who know a lot about wine and like to learn from them when they choose a bottle, but neither of us can comment on the fine details. Some of the English people there, meanwhile, were real wine lovers and foodies who spend a lot of time cooking and appreciating food.

So it was funny to see how much, by virtue of being French, his opinion counted. Everybody took turns to cook, and sometimes there was almost a sigh of relief when UFM said that the meal was delicious. When we did wine tasting one evening, we were no more expert than anyone else, and yet his comments (and by association, mine) were taken with deep seriousness.

It wasn't in any way an unpleasant situation for him, and when you are new to a group and also not a native speaker of the langauge, it's nice to be listened to. Plus, it's definitely better to stand for 60 million people who know a lot about wine than a nation of lorry drivers who are always on strike!


  1. My family is similar with my boyfriend---he does care a lot about food, and also about clothing, but nothing out of the ordinary for a French person. My mom especially seems to defer to his opinions on almost everything. It's touching but funny as well.

  2. Only 599,999 french people? What happened? ;)

    My mum gets quite funny about the alleged sophistication of "Europeans" at times, you'd think she came from some tiny NZ backwater instead of liverpool. (Which, yes, is not known for its polish, but is still a big city in Europe.)

    1. Oops, you're right - I've reduced the whole of France to the size of a small city! Off to add some extra 9s now!

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  4. Also better to be from a country known for wine than one known for hamburgers and Coca Cola . . . My friends in the states seem to seek out my husband's opinion on food and wine, but my parents are perfectly happy serving him boxed mac & cheese, because it's Tuesday and that's what we eat on Tuesdays, thank you very much, lol.

  5. Good job there were no lorry drivers present!! Ahhh...I miss the word lorry, here they are trucks or highway tractors!