Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying, etc

Now playing: Arvo Pärt - "Summa"

This summer will mark the 6th year anniversary of my moving to the UK. Right now I am in a state of ill-advised tipsiness, which usually makes me want to do stuff I wouldn't usually do ; in this case, write a blog post about the country that I've come to call home.

I came to live here almost on a whim, two years after I first "met" over the internet the man that would become my husband. (He was writing a blog of weird short stories in broken French, and I liked them so much we became online-pen pals and eventually met up, messily fell in love, and subsequently started going out. I don't think it's a particularly interesting story so I shan't bored anyone reading this with more details. Unless they ask.) I was a student in Toulouse and he was doing a degree at the University of Nottingham, so our relationship was a long-distance one - which, as anyone who's had one can tell you, is kind of exciting but also complicated and sometimes a pain in the arse, so after a while it became obvious that we had to live a bit closer or split up. And so I moved. I found myself a job as an au-pair, packed a box of stuff and a bag of clothes and took a flight to East Midlands airport. Here I was, with my reasonably good but exceedingly shy english, feeling a bit like an alien but looking forward to experiencing new things and learning about this strange backwards country ("Why do they have to do EVERYTHING so differently to everyone else?!" - my Mum, during her last visit where she seemed to get very angry about left-hand driving, the price of parking, plug sockets, the weather and paying up-front in pubs).

I love England, and the UK in general. I love it the way you love an adopted country - at first, you're a bit scared and weirded out and you wonder if it was the right choice, but then you start discovering all the idiosyncrasies and the subtleties and you transition from the vague, stereotypical vision you had to the warm, complex feelings you get from getting to know things first-hand and learning how to love them.

I think the best thing about it is how open and tolerant most people are of difference. I remember learning the word "melting pot" in english class when I was about 14 and not quite getting it, and then I moved here and understood why such a term was invented. Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing, and there are only a few idiots here that will say otherwise. The vast majority of people don't care about your accent, the colour of your skin, the way you dress, the way you talk, they tend to just take you at face value and if you're a decent human being they will see through the surface stuff and embrace it. It is to be noted that, at the last general election in 2008, the BNP got less than 2% of the votes (let us not dwell on the fact that 18% of French people voted for the loathsome Front National at the first round of the presidentials last Sunday, because that makes me so sad I almost cried when I heard about it on the news).

I'm not saying that everything is perfect and everyone is filled with love, but generally speaking there is a level open-mindedness that I find really awesome. Take the fact that here, if you are friends with someone, you will frequently hug them to say goodbye or hello - when I compare it to the ridiculous "bise", these pointless air-kisses that I always found irritating, it's just a no-brainer. Or the fact that the differences between formal and informal registries are almost non-existent, and that pretty much everyone calls everyone by their first name, even your boss or your bank manager. Or the way the language itself is so flexible that learning and speaking it is like a really fun game.

So I decided I was going to settle down here for the foreseeable future, I married the man with the broken french, and I started eating baked beans for breakfast on Sundays. I miss France a lot, and I love going back, and I think I might still live there again, but for now this is my home too, and I'm very fond of it.

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