The things I miss by Carole Rommene

The things I missI met a lovely couple of English readers in our restaurant recently (Hello Jean and Colin). They have lived near Uzès for the past decade and are very much settled here. We went through some funny stories and anecdotes about their life here and the difference between our two countries. Apart from the fact that it was lovely to have a long conversation in English again, this meeting seems to have triggered some kind of acute nostalgia for my former home. It reminded me of all the things I missed about England. Although the grass is always greener on the other side, here are a few of them (but the list is not exhaustive!):

 

Daffodils

One of my favourite things during Spring in England was the vast areas of yellow created by hundreds of daffodils. I have to admit that my initial reaction upon seeing this phenomenon for the first time was “who on earth planted all these bulbs?” They just seem to grow in every field they can find, creating beautiful scenery and the feeling that Winter is definitely over.

 

Coffee shops & afternoon teas

I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, but I have never lied about my notorious addiction to scones and jam. 17 years in England were still not enough to make me drink tea but I like nothing better than a good strong milky coffee with afternoon tea in a traditional coffee shop; definitely a British institution.

 

Civilised dog owners

OK, the nice reverie about wild flowers and delicacy stops here to be replaced by utter frustration. Why is it that British dogs’ poos always end up in a plastic bag and straight in the dog bin wherever you go, while French dogs only manage to poo straight in front of your garage door (and preferably exactly on the spot where you open your car door; you see what I mean). My village is a typical example. I was full of hope the day the mairie staff installed a couple of dog bins, together with plastic bag dispenser — oh yes, the full Monty — and special ‘canine toilets’ consisting of a square sand pit with a pole in the middle. A year on, nothing has changed. Hardly anybody (or any dog, either!) uses the facilities except for a couple of very civilised people who are probably seen as either boho or clinically disciplined.

 

Lack of endless bureaucracy

Ah well, where shall I start? This one makes my blood boil too and I know I’m not alone. CAF, URSSAF, RSI, CPAM, Sécu, Pôle Emploi. The list of culprits is endless. I am French and I am so lost in the maze of never-ending administrative rules and procedures. If you dare question the logic (or lack of) of one particular process, you get looked at as if you were straight out of another civil service galaxy. I can imagine how expats trying to establish themselves here must feel with all these obstacles in addition to the language barrier. To be fair, now and again you will speak to someone so helpful that you will want to only ever speak to them in the future. The chance though, is that they won’t be there next time...

 

Great customer service

My husband and I had this bet every time we went to Marks & Spencer. We had to guess how many thank yous we would get at the till: usually one for placing the items on the counter, then another one for handing your credit card, followed by one for not wanting any cash back, then one in reply to our own thank you at the end. If you had any additional queries or questions, it could soon add up to a whole conversation. As someone once said to me "in England, don’t forget your Ps & Qs", and I’ve always remembered that advice. I do find retail staff extremely pleasant and helpful over there, with customer service being one of the main objectives. Why is it that in many stores here you have to explain in full detail why you are returning this particular dress. "Is it faulty?" "No". "Is it dirty then?" "No" "Is it the wrong size?" "NO!" I mean, do I really have to explain in front of the queue that it just makes my bum look big?

 

Having said all that, what I learn for most of all is someone judging you on your skills and ability to do a job, not on who you are, whether you are friends with the local mayor or councillor, your social background or your culture. As long as you can deliver, you can be part of it and have your place in society. I am not naïve enough to believe that it doesn’t take place in the UK but not to the extent I’ve seen here since I’ve moved back. I was once told by an insurance company that they couldn’t cover me professionally because I didn’t have a French diploma in translation! When I told them that I had an English degree, a professional certificate in my field and 15 years of experience in communication in the UK, the answer was: "well, that’s the procedure". It just sums it all up...