Monday, 1 December 2014

Expat Revelations: What I've Brought from Scotland to France

Is it universal for expats that when we talk about importing from our motherlands to our adopted homes, the first thing we think of is foodstuffs? My list includes (more or less in order of priority): cheddar cheese, golden syrup, marzipan, glacé cherries and mixed peel for Christmas, marmite, treacle and sugar-free diluting juice. For presents, I bring shortbread and tablet, and I once carried 3 haggises in my suitcase on the Eurostar, but that's an experience I've yet to repeat.

If we expand the categories beyond just what is edible, I also buy a lot of my shoes in the UK because there is a better range of width fittings and I think the quality is better for the price, at least at the high street end of the market. This is also true of socks, tights and underwear, and make-up is also a lot cheaper for the same brands compared with France. And it's not just me - Understanding Frenchman also loves shopping in Edinburgh when we go back, so it can't just be about cultural biases.

I also bring over a lot of books. It's not that reading in French is hard - unless the book is seriously highbrow I don't struggle to understand anything - it's just that it seems easier to find books that I like in English. French books are a bit like clothes and shoes: there are plenty of wonderful high quality literary works and a fair bit of  trash, but if you want something with a plot line you can follow on the train without feeling that your intelligence is being insulted, that's a bit harder to find.

But being an expat (immigrant?) doesn't just mean importing consumer goods. Holly's post kicking off this series of Expat Revelations inspired me to think about some of the less tangible things that I have brought back with me across the Channel:

British manners: I think I say "sorry" and "thank you" a lot less than I used to, but still significantly more than the average French person. And, while I understand that the French way is not necessarily less polite, just differently polite, I'm not sure it's a habit I want to lose entirely.

Music: It annoys Understanding Frenchman no end when I put on my Scottish trad CDs in the car, but it's in my blood, so that's just too bad for him. Oh, and I sing Christmas carols in the shower at this time of year too.

British humour: Understanding Frenchman is always telling me that I'm ironique. That's not something I'm likely to lose, as it seems to be rubbing off on him now, and I'm starting to get a taste of my own sarcastic medicine. Which is awesome.

So there you go - hopefully now I sound like someone who is not totally fixated on her stomach now!


  1. So with you on the books! It's been really hard to find books in French that I enjoy reading, whereas I could find a hundred books in English every year. I'm trying to limit myself to reading in French in order to get better at writing in French, but it is not easy to find things to read. Why??

    1. I like reading the news more than novels in French, especially news magazines where they explain the issues from the beginning. I also find that reading them improves my French more than novels because you can use the new words when the topics come up in conversation afterwards.

      I think the reason good English books are easier to find is partly that there are more English books published than French books, but also because there is more marketing around books, which makes the good ones easier to find. I believe the price is also regulated in France, which is why they are so expensive here.

  2. I never read in French either, but it's so cheap and easy to get books now - even the Brussels public library has a great section of English books! Humour is tricky, we tend to have a deadpan delivery even if not being sarcastic per se, and it's very easy for people to think I'm serious (although this goes for people from some other English-speaking countries too).

  3. I can read French just fine (even though I probably should do so more in order to improve my grammar), but I much prefer reading in English. I like to read to relax, and it seems like I have better options in English. Marketplace is a great place to find gently used books in English for super cheap. You can find quite a few for 1 centime plus 2.99 for shipping, so only 3 euros for a book!

    And I agree with you on the price of shoes (and makeup!)! I feel like for the same price, I can get better quality in the US. The boots I'm wearing right now are from the US and the same style/quality would have cost me so much more here.


  4. Eh, even I have a much much larger collections of books in English than in French. It seems that at the FNAC, 80% of the books are translated from English anyway. And non-fiction books are ALWAYS about politics (or WWII).

    haggises? Is that the plural? I learned something new tonight!

  5. I only just found this post! I have the opposite problem with manners... Canadians have more than the English, so I feel rude a lot of the time!