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Why Anglo/French is a perfect marriage - vive L’Eurostar

Elizabeth Kesses
By Elizabeth Kesses Published on 21 October 2011

I have had a love affair with the French way all my life - trips to Calais, stocking up on Hollywood chewing gum, watching Manon des Sources and crushes on the garcons smoking Gitanes on Brittany beaches.

Why Anglo/French is a perfect marriage - vive L’Eurostar

I have just married a Frenchy and we just fit so well together. He is laid back and a bon viveur. Though I am too there is alot of uptight orderliness left over from my public school years.

He is always late for dinner parties, I am always early. He can crack open oysters, I can bake crumble.

Fundamentally it is a highly compatible union of cultures but there are many many many differences...

Us Brits like our rules: don’t speed or use the phone whilst driving, cut down smoking. The French, instead, see these things as a way of life.

Yet the French have their little etiquettes - tiny rules that mean a lot to them. For instance in certain corners of Paris you can’t leave the house unless your hair is immaculate and you’re wearing a twin set.

Once I tried to cook spag bol for a casual dinner with friends but etiquette says that’s only for a ‘simple’ family supper. It makes the mind boggle.

We are such close neighbours yet in so many ways distant cousins.

We've also built up crazy and unfounded perceptions of our neighbours. The French call us ‘les rosbifs’ - as we like our Roast Beef and all the other clichés, fish and chips, cheese and pickle.

According to the French we always wear macs as it always rains and we spend our life down the pub.

We call them frogs because they eat frogs legs, as well as horse, goose liver and raw steak tartare. They don’t wash, eat too much garlic and all have a mistress... of course.

Eurostar - see the difference

Stereotypes aside, the finer differences are glaringly obvious when you journey from Paris to London on the Eurostar.

Suave French business men - late for their train - charm their way through French customs - yet are stopped by the British control for cheating the system. Elderly British ladies are pushed to the back of the queue as the French barge in. Even the way the station names are pronounced is revealing. The French, disliking zee olde English language say San Pancraaa. The English attempt a French accent but it is normally so bad it comes out as Gaaaar doooo Norr.

Arriving at Gare du Nord there is your classic grubby French cafe selling spit and saw dust cafe crème. Yet alongside a top notch traiteur selling the smelliest pate and saucisson. Who in their right mind decides to take home a smelly sausage to their spouse?

The UK facilities are more functional and 'chainy' - Costa coffee for a Starbuckesque experience and WHSmith for crisps, sweets and the Times. The French look bewildered at all the muffins and frappucino varieties - where is the vin rouge?

The onboard service is also a bizarre fusion. In the cafe Kettle Chips sit alongside ready prepared Croque Monsieurs. In Business they have attempted an anglo francais blend using the Roux brothers to inspire the cuisine. Though if we are honest French mainly have the upper hand.

The menus promise a 3 star dining experience - mini mezze, grouse, millefeuilles. Yet the reality is often overly rich and mushy plane-style food.

Actually in this case British cuisine should take charge - shepherds pie, bread and butter pudding would fill the hearts and stomachs of burnt out business travellers. The worst is the cheese course - who on earth wants Camembert breath before they arrive???

Probably the most contrasting experience was the infamous snow saga - when a train got stuck in the tunnel for about 12 hours.

The air was so frozen outside and so warm in the tunnel the train came to a grinding hault. My beau was actually on that very train. My dad had just died and I was beside myself worrying about where he was - communications broke down between both sides of the Channel.

On board my beau being a calm chap, yet classically ‘gourmand’ was mainly concerned about the general lack of food.

He quickly rifled through my mother's Xmas presents for la Duree macaroons that he generously (and to me somewhat surprisingly) handed out to rally the troops. The rest of the carriage was hysterical, some banging on windows to get out, others complaining angrily that Claudia Schiffer was allowed to leave the train.

Needless to say many people, if slightly claustrophobic before, will now never cross the channel other than on a ferry and in a woolly hat.

The funniest bit of the whole story was the welcome to London. The battle weary travellers after 15 hours of being cooped up in a freezing train were all hungry, and thirsty. All St Pancras could offer was bags Walkers Ready Salted Crisps and bottles of water.

I suspect that many of the French travelling to the UK for the festive season were having some serious concerns about ‘la qualite’ of their forthcoming Christmas dinner.

Despite all the differences the Eurostar is a truly brilliant success. By the time you have read the Monde or Telegraph, checked emails and chomped your way through the dodgy three course meal the train has spat you out in Blighty.

Thanks to our neighbours with their very speedy trains British transport has left the Victorian times. In fact the Frogs and the Rosbifs have not seen eye to eye on much - wars, politics, how to cook a Roast.....but thank God for an alliance over trains at least!

Brit Chick says:

Brit Chick's Eurostar top tips

1 - travel Tuesday if you can, it's the least busy day
2 - leisure select is cheaper business with free champers
3 - there's chargers on board if you phone runs out - just ask.
4 - get your early bird croissant from Gare du Nord
5 - avoid sitting in coach near the loos - obviously...


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by Elizabeth Kesses