Le Croft Magazine // In thand final Letter fin Paris, Xander Brett discusses what he learned during his nine months in France, as well as the Franco-British relationship.
I am writing this letter the day before my departure from Paris and my trip to London from North Station. At the end of the episode, I will have spent nearly five weeks away from Île Saint-Louis. I will miss the rhythm of everyday life … tobacco reopened just as I left. This year may have been disrupted. A game of two halves, certainly. But I leave with an understanding of France and an understanding of French.
For nine months, I have been your correspondent here. I said in my first letter, back on the 20the September 2020, I hoped that my stereotypes about France would be challenged. Well, I certainly fell in love with the bureaucracy. But I stand by my words that Paris is France. France is Paris. And to be Parisian is to be as French as they come. Like Italy and Spain, France is a nation with fragmented identities. Paris and the Île de France region are exactly that: an island of pure Frenchness in a diverse landscape. It’s a melting pot that delivers a prepackaged part of France and Europe. Because they are one.
I liked to cook, read French newspapers and watch French TV. While the British turn on the radio, we in France turn on the television every morning. It seems a terrible habit for the French to have televisions in their kitchens, but it does mean Telematin can come up to the breakfast table. Of course the rest of the day I’m tuned in to the radio and my preset: a pretentious string of arts and philosophy. France Culture. Sunday morning editing the letters is a cool alternative to modern jazz, Fip. When I was away from home and at university, I traveled to every arrondissement in Paris and every region of France, knocking over its neighbors and putting pins on my map.
As I have said so many times, the idea that the French hate us is absurd. Really, there are two things Britain does best, according to France: music and royalty. The hysteria of a single royal pregnancy sent Telematin in spirals. In 1789, the French had the choice. In fact, they were offered the same choice in 1830. Would they want a monarchy? Both times they pulled out the guillotine and said “no”. So now they’re paying off ours. Our queen is adored, and she plays on their fascination by charming them in impeccable French. Speaking to Times Paris correspondent Adam Sage, I was told about the countless British journalists invited to French television to discuss a royal birth, only to find that everyone knows a lot more than them. He often receives calls for comment before he knows the baby is born.
As I finish Letters from ParisI remember again what Hugh Schofield, the BBC’s Paris correspondent, told me. “The problem with France,” he said, “is that the British are either too dismissive or too infatuated with it”. My life in Paris has shown me that it is still the nation of fine wine, classical literature and beautiful romance. It’s normal that now that I live in Paris, my grandparents are packing up their house in the Gers. For both of us, it’s a farewell to France.
Image en vedette: Xander Brett
Listen to Alex’s weekly podcast on Burst Radio “Lettres de Paris” here.