It’s not easy to switch nationality. You can apply for citizenship, get a passport, fly the flag. But if you can’t kill a bull at nine paces, sluice back vodka and milk for breakfast; eat rice with chopsticks; fold a pizza in half and still call it a pizza; or wear a beret without looking totally ridiculous, then you’re not from the country you think you’re from. You’re an outsider at best.
However, I can confirm that there is some Frenchness creeping into me. Not only are my British clothes gradually being replaced by tight fitting orange chinos, baggy V-necked pullovers and rope-soled sandals, but my mannerisms and moods too.
When the French are annoyed with something they emit a small bubble of air from their mouth as though trying to blow a small fly off the end of a pencil. It’s a sort of ‘pffft’ sound and it’s highly annoying. Yet, I’ve caught myself doing it. The next sign of growing irritation is the classic Gallic jaw-drop. The right hand side of the mouth and chin fall to the floor as though all facial muscle functions have ceased. I haven’t succumbed to this yet. But I have developed a French cold.
It’s like any other cold, except that instead of originating from a bacteria or a virus, it’s caused by a strain of nausea that’s only found in France and activated on the second Monday of October. Like the Equinox In Lyon 55, you can set your watch by it.
Turning the corner of Rue de Belge yesterday I passed a gaggle of spluttering guys wrapped up in polar sleeping bags, Siberian goose feather gloves and loft insulator fashioned scarves. The chemist clock read 22.5 degrees. Yet moments later I fell foul to a bout of coughing, sneezing and nose streaming. As I looked into the window at my reflection I saw my jaw drop and my mouth give a quick ‘pffft’ into the glass steaming it up slightly. I must have been very annoyed.
Back home I wrapped my duvet around me, cancelled everything for the next two weeks, and wobbled down to the chemist with twenty prescriptions in hand. By their own admission, the French are a nation of pill poppers. Walk past any pharmacy on any evening and witness the frenzied fight for pills and potions before the shutters come down. Like the bloodbath that is last orders in a boozer back home. Only worse. Single mothers spitting in the eyes of the blind to force their way through the scrum before the last bottle of Prozac is given out to feed somebody else’s misery. Madmen and crazies rushing the counter in an attempt to grab a handful of whatever’s strongest on offer. It’s a rat-run and I wouldn’t venture there if my life depended on it.
I’ve recovered from my maladie now, but I’m scared about what’s to come. What nightmarish disease, idiosyncrasy or mental affliction will hit me over the next few months. It’s too hideous to think about and I sometimes yearn for my brown corduroys, green checked shirts and my fourteen year old English brown leather shoes.