There was a lot of chat on FB over the past few days about this article about ex-pat Brits in Spain.
This has prompted me to reveal a teaser from my memoirs “Knitting With Eels” about my life in France over the past 25 years.
Although I have met many Brits over here who integrate, learn the language and are perfectly civilized, there is a hard-core of ex-Empire mentality ones who seem to think they are doing the natives a favour just by gracing them with their presence.
In desperation, when in Brittany, I invited some of the female members of this “rather die than learn French” group over to my house for regular coffee mornings, during which I tried to teach them what I call “first aid French”. This involved useful things like phoning a doctor or garage, exchanging the small pleasantries with neighbours that get one accepted in a community. I did my best. At the time I was employed teaching English to French people so I knew my stuff. It was hopeless. As long as I was doling out coffee and allowing them to chat in English, they were fine. As soon as I asked them to try out a couple of words of anything else, they went a funny colour and clammed up.
In desperation, I finally asked them why they were in France at all. The usual reasons of better weather, exorbitant profits on sale of UK home to buy French one and much cheaper booze were trotted out. So, intrigued, I demanded to know why they wanted to leave Britain.
“It’s the immigrants. Around our way it is full of them. Don’t speak English, eat funny foreign muck, open shops selling it too. Oh did I tell you I found Shredded Wheat in Leclerc last week?”
No – they couldn’t see that the very thing that had driven them out of their own country was what they were practicing on the Breton, along with driving house-prices through the roof, meaning that local kids could not afford to buy where they were brought up. No wonder the locals hated us.
I eventually got branded as “gone native” because I spoke French and worked for a living. This was considered “showing off” and on hearing that, we decided to move. Where we are now there are still non-French residents but they are mainly well-integrated.
Me? I went native big time – applied to take French nationality and now have a French passport and ID card. This will be funny if the “No Immigrants” parties get voted in – Britain will leave Europe, my ex neighbours will be invited to go home and I will sit here singing La Marseillaise and waving my flag.