I recently applied for French nationality. Partly in a reaction against Brexit. Partly because (nearly) my whole life is based in Paris now: my clients, my apartment, my partner and now my soon-to-be-born child, who will be educated in France and feel more French than British.
This decision got me asking lots of questions. Does living in France make me feel or act in a less British way? Have I blended in seamlessly or do I still stand out as a Brit?
I certainly get very heated when talking or reading about Brexit. I feel involved, even if I don’t live there. I’m not sure I’m quite so passionate about the French presidential elections…yet. This may be because I can’t vote or because my childhood and adolescence were built on British institutions, cultural references and values.
Over the last 7 years, I’ve got used to the French way of doing things, which is often more or less the same as in the UK, but sometimes radically different (eating habits, work, social security & more). Yet, at the same time, I find myself feeling a little more nostalgic and a tad fonder of British places, products and habits. For example, I never used to go to M&S when I lived in the UK, but now I relish a leisurely stroll through the hot-cross-bun and liquorice-all-sort filled aisles, and evangelise about the merits of the sandwiches.
Having a baby is also making me more aware of my roots. I want my son to speak English, not only so he can communicate with his grandparents, but also because language is an integral part of who I am. If he only ever knew the French-speaking me, would he know his real mother?
Language is without doubt intrinsically linked to a sense of identity.
I regularly question the impact speaking French most of the time has on me, my writing and my ability to be myself. I sometimes find myself talking to my family in French without realising, only to be met with blank looks of confusion. I also sometimes question my use of English. Do we say that or is that Franglais?
Lots of my French clients are equally fond of questioning my English based on their extensive experience and flawless grammar usage, “Is you sure you say it like zat? Why not write it like zis? Usually, I defiantly stick to my British ground and patiently explain my choice of words or syntax. But, every now and then a little whisper of doubt wiggles its way in.
Conversely, each time I hop back over English Chanel, I feel a little more out of place. In big, bustling, multicultural cities like London and Paris, difference is celebrated, or at least tolerated. You can be who you want and no one stands out too much – there are so many French people in London that I sometimes forget where I am.
Yet, beyond, the tentacles of the city, the differences and specificities slowly make their way to the surface…
(To be continued)