I was making myself a cup of tea this afternoon and was suddenly filled with gratitude towards England (and by extension China) for good tea. Twinings just ain’t the same in France, it’s weak and terrible and like drinking sock juice, whereas England is full of good strong brands like PG Tips, Yorkshire Tea and Clipper. It got me thinking about all the wonderful things I like about England, so here are 10 of my favourite things, in no particular order of preference, and guess what, they’re not all food-related!
1. Tea – I did not drink tea before I came to England, and then I drank it with 4 sugars. I am now a hardcore, ‘milk no sugar’ tea drinker and it is my favourite beverage for keeping hydrated aside from plain water.
2. Tiger bread – It’s all crunchy on top and soft inside and is one of my favourite English breads.
3. Weather forecast summaries – I am endlessly amused that despite the fact that every (mild) type of weather happens somewhere in the UK on any given day, the BBC still tries to give us a nationwide soundbite summary, which often reads a bit like this: ‘sunny with some showers and possible snow in the north’. The beauty of it is that they still manage to get it wrong.
4. Pubs – it’s been a while since I’ve gone to a pub in the evening (you know, babies and all that) but we’ve gone out for lunch a few times recently and I just love the whole pub atmosphere. I love sitting in a beer garden with a half-pint of beer and a plate of fishcakes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the French café culture but the two feel very different. My favourite pub memory involves getting my hands dirty sharing a platter of chicken wings and chips with friends and nursing a Guinness.
5. Baby & Toddler Groups – believe it or not, toddler groups are very rare in France. Sometimes your only choice might be to go to the park. In England, you can go to a different toddler group every day of the week. Some are even run by churches and people don’t find it strange or off-putting. Yes, breaking into a clique of mums can be difficult but it’s so great to have the option, if only to get your child off your legs for a few minutes whilst you eat a bit of cake.
6. The job market – It may surprise some of you but even with the current job crisis, it is much easier to find a job in England than it is across the channel, especially if you are a first time worker/young person without experience. What I love the most about the British approach to work is that prospective employers look at the whole person and not just the education heading on your CV. They look at what you’ve done and make assumptions about a person’s capabilities to do a job even if they have trained in something else. In France, it doesn’t matter what you have done before if you haven’t got the specific qualification required for the job.
Here is how it works for someone like me who has just the French Baccalauréat (or ‘bac’ = A-Levels equivalent) and 15 years of experience working in England in various office management and PA roles. In England, prospective employers will look at my experience and employ me on that basis. In France, because I only have the baccalaureate and no actual qualification for secretarial work, I would most likely be required to take a test to confirm I can speak English and also undertake a secretarial course. Basically an English employer will assume I am intelligent enough do the job because I had very good grades at the bac, and a French employer will think I was not intelligent enough to go to university and get a degree.
7. The Full English Breakfast – without the beans and the black pudding <shiver>, so in my case consisting of sausage, bacon, fried egg, tomato, mushrooms, hash brown and toast on the side. You wouldn’t think it would work as a breakfast but there’s something special about the Full English, and it is such a classic it had to be on the list.
8. BBC Dramas – The BBC has given us Dr Who, Sherlock, Downtown Abbey (which I haven’t actually seen but I hear it’s brilliant), Spooks and North & South; and of course 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, which was thrust upon me the first week I arrived in England, and which I loved despite the fact that at the time I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying. And I haven’t even listed their superb nature documentaries, which I would normally not have touched with a barge pole for sheer boredom potential but are so visually stunning you can’t help but sit mesmerized as David Attenborough‘s soothing voice lulls you into a false sense of security moments before the little baby otter is killed by a polar bear, or such similar horror.
9. The English sense of humour – not so much the Carry On type of crude slapstick but the self-deprecating ‘everything is crap and isn’t it hilarious’ approach to life and the intelligent banter as displayed in TV shows like QI and Have I Got News For You. And sarcasm.
10. Being able to dress like a girl – I’ve said this before, but in France jeans and a t-shirt are almost a uniform for the youth and 30-somethings everywhere, and people wear a lot of black, white and grey. Here, I go to a party wearing proper girly dresses, bright colours and glitter and I don’t stand out.
And now for a thing that England does very well that is not on my list:
– Indian Food: people love curry over here, and Indian takeout is amazing. I can’t get excited about it for no other reason that it’s just not my thing. But it is very good, very popular and there are hundreds of fantastic places to get it from.
Your turn now. What’s your favourite English thing?