Call of France

A Trilogy by Barry A. Whittingham

Category: Living with the English

English Portocole

Yet one more example of those countless, irreconcilable differences separating English and French is provided by their diametrically-opposed attitudes to port. For the French le porto is usually consumed as just one more apéritif. It tends to be drunk chilled in its lighter, white variations and, along with other fortified wines, is more a preference of the female sex. The English, on the other hand, prefer their port velvet red, served at room temperature, and in full-bodied, vintage form – while drinking it is traditionally an almost exclusively male, after-dinner practice.

     Historically, port-drinking in England goes back to the beginning of the eighteenth century when conflict with the hereditary enemy obliged the English to turn to their Portuguese allies to provision them in wine. The long sea journey to England proving detrimental to quality, the wine began to be ‘fortified’ – stabilized by the addition of distilled grape alcohol which stopped the fermentation process, thereby retaining a high sugar content while increasing alcoholic strength.

     Port is generally regarded by the English as providing the ideal complement, both in texture and flavour, not only to indigenous cheeses such as Stilton, Cheddar or Gloucester, but also as a dessert wine to accompany, in particular, full-flavoured, fruit–based sweets as well as nuts. It must be savoured in slow, contemplative sips, and is reputed both for the warm, calming effects it has on imbibers, and the philosophical orientations it is apt to impart. Perhaps it was this latter propensity which, in higher social circles, went towards creating that after-dinner custom which required ladies to retire to the drawing room for tea and gossip, leaving the men to discuss politics and life’s vicissitudes over a cigar, and a glass or two of mellow vintage port.

     And what is more natural with these lovers of ritualized tradition that port-drinking should have generated a number of odd ceremonial procedures? For serving and passing the port are subject to rules of etiquette as minutely detailed as those set out in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews’ Book of Regulations. At formal dinners, a custom, apparently originating in the British Navy, requires the wine to be passed from port to port (the port side of a ship is the left-hand side): the host first serves the person seated on his right before passing the bottle clockwise to his neighbour on the left; the latter then proceeds to serve the passer on his right, and then hands it on to the next person on his left who does the same. In this way the bottle is sent round the table until it comes full circle back to the host. If a person should, for some reason, fail to pass the bottle on (another rule states that it must never be allowed to touch the table on the way round), it is considered discourteous to bring this to his attention directly (we are, of course, among gentlemen). The only acceptable procedure consists in asking him the question: ‘Don’t you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ This is intended more as a reminder than a reproach. If, however, the miscreant is unacquainted enough with port etiquette to answer in the negative, the correct response is: ‘He’s an awfully nice fellow … but he never remembers to pass the port!’ *

     And what more can you expect from a nation of incorrigible boozers that another long-established tradition requires that a bottle in the process of being drunk should never be re-corked? The injunction ‘No heel-taps!’ requires that the last drops of the bottle be drunk off so that another may be swiftly opened. At formal military dinners, moreover, no other wine but port is considered noble enough to be raised in toast to the King or Queen.

 

*Legend has it that the ecclesiastic in question was the long-lived Henry Bathurst (1744-1837), Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837, who in his later years was in the understandable habit of nodding off over his port, thus failing to pass it on. So seriously was the problem taken that elaborate lengths were gone to in order to find a remedy. A solution was finally provided by the Hoggett Decanter, the rounded base of which made it impossible to stand, thereby making sure it inscribed a full aerial circle before landing back on a special stand (itself called the Hoggett) positioned in front of the host.

 

Dreaming of moving to France ? Thinking of spending a holiday there ? Or would you simply like to know more about the French way of life ?  In this free Ebook you’ll find 369 tips to help you get your bearings in a country where it’s easy to feel all at sea. They’re based on the author’s own observations, experiences (and mistakes) during 45 years of mainly peaceful cohabitation with the French. Available in Kindle, Epub and PDF format.

Get started here :   http://calloffrance.com/free-ebook-offer 

 

La Perfide Albion or Hypocrisy – English Style

Though anecdotes abound concerning the Englishman’s legendary ability to preserve his sense of humour and sang-froid in moments of crisis, the Frenchman in us has just pointed out that fewer exist regarding another of his specialities: hypocrisy. You know, we’re sure he’d be ready to bet our bottom euro that there isn’t another country in the world where direct rectification, disagreement or contradiction is perceived as being tantamount to a declaration of war. And it can only be you English who, when you find yourselves in the embarrassing situation of having to correct a mistake, will go to such extraordinarily apologetic lengths to point out that what you are about to say is in no way a criticism, but stems merely from a wish to explain. Though our Froggie would be the first to admit that the rules of politeness oblige us all to conceal our true feelings and opinions so as to minimize the risk of conflict with others, you take this to ridiculous extremes. He really doesn’t know of any other people in the world who, instead of declaring, ‘No, I disagree with you entirely!’ go to such extraordinary lengths to reply, ‘Well you certainly might have a point, but, on the other hand, don’t you think …?’ when they are intimately convinced you’re talking unmitigated rubbish. Now, let’s be honest. How can you possibly trust someone who systematically professes to agree with everything you say?

     And some years ago during an IRA terrorist bombing campaign in London, we were enjoying a quiet evening drink with an English friend in a pub near Piccadilly Circus, when suddenly in the distance we heard a violent detonation. The window panes rattled slightly, glasses on shelves behind the bar chinked together, and a few particles of dust floated down from the ceiling. To our utter amazement, everybody except us threw themselves to the floor, and remained there for several moments in deathly silence. Finally, on realizing there was no danger, our friend raised himself to his feet, casually dusted his jacket sleeves and trouser legs, looked us knowingly in the eye, and then remarked with a smug-looking smile, ‘Oh! You were so scared you couldn’t move!’

     What’s more, in the field of sport our Frenchman is convinced that you English are much less stars of fair play than champions at making people think you are and, if there was a gold medal to be won in the field of perfidious hypocrisy, you would be world-beaters. On this score, the experience our neighbour, Monsieur Martin, had in his youth can be taken as just one example.

     In his younger days, Monsieur Martin played rugby for our local fifteen. Now such is the aggressive nature of this sport, ‘a game of thugs played by gentlemen’, that certain situations could provide the opportunity for violent, below-the-belt tactics, worthy of the most unsavoury street-fighter which, admittedly, the referee is not always in a position to witness and punish. The game relies, therefore, on the rules of fair sporting conduct being responsibly applied by all players. In this respect, Monsieur Martin often tells the story of the ‘friendly’ match he once played against a touring English club team.

     A match between England and France can never, of course, be amicable in the true sense of the word, and this one was no exception. In an enthusiastically-disputed ruck Monsieur Martin received a kick in the head from an English forward (out of sight, of course, of the referee), vigorous enough for him to be obliged to play the rest of the match with blood streaming from a gash in his forehead (this was before the days of the blood substitute). At the end of the game (narrowly lost by the French), the English consolidated their triumph, as is their custom, by lining up in a guard of honour and ‘sportingly’ shaking hands with their adversaries.

     ‘Oh dear! Did you bump your head?’ enquired the English forward, seizing Monsieur Martin warmly by the hand.

    

Dreaming of moving to France ? Thinking of spending a holiday there ? Or would you simply like to know more about the French way of life ?  In this free Ebook you’ll find 369 tips to help you get your bearings in a country where it’s easy to feel all at sea. They’re based on the author’s own observations, experiences (and mistakes) during 45 years of mainly peaceful cohabitation with the French. Available in Kindle, Epub and PDF format.

Get started here :   http://calloffrance.com/free-ebook-offer

 

 

 

An Awesome or a Simply Divine Weekend?

What if our puts dropped reverentially down with a satisfying plop?

Another of those things the Frenchman in us finds contradictory in you English is why such a pragmatic, no-nonsense sort of nation, proud to call a spade a spade, and so mistrustful of anything vaguely smacking of verbal ostentation – especially when it comes in the form of words of more than two syllables in length – should be given to such hyperbolic extravagance in their choice of descriptive language. For there is certainly no other people on our planet who have incorporated into their everyday speech such effusive adjectives as ‘fantastic’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘marvellous’, ‘incredible’, ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’, ‘awesome’ to name just a few (frequently reinforced by ‘absolutely’ or ‘utterly’) to qualify what is barely distinguishable from the mundane.
     Why, only the other day we had lunch with a friend in an English pub. The waitress, a pleasant, not unattractive young lady, brought us the menu, came back five minutes later, took down our order, and then departed after gratifying us with the sweetest of smiles along with a mystifying ‘wonderful!’ If, by this, she wished to compliment us on our choice of fare, the Frenglishman we are is yet to comprehend what she could have found so extraordinarily delightful about steak and kidney pie, peas and chips.
     But what annoys us most is the word ‘awesome’. Perhaps it’s because of the increasing ascendency it seems to be enjoying over all the others. Only last week an old school friend with whom we’d recently re-established contact after a lapse of many years was describing his two grandchildren, aged 10 and 12. ‘They’re little angels,’ he wrote. ‘When you next come to England you must visit us and see for yourself. They’re really awesome.’
     It’s not that we wouldn’t like to believe him. The problem is that our three years as a schoolmaster in England soon taught us that if you don’t keep on top of these awesome little angels they can make your life worse than hell. Mind you, at first we didn’t exclude the possibility that the meaning of the word had changed since our dim and distant youth, and that it was now more or less synonymous with ‘nice’, or at most ‘excellent’. So we got out our Shorter Oxford just to make sure. But there it was in black and white: ‘Inspiring wonder, dread, or amazement’. And then, to cap it all, last Friday evening we received an email from somebody (he was American, so it must be the same over there) offering his services to help us market our book.
     ‘Hi, I was checking out your Call of France website,’ he began. ‘It’s really awesome, but you could have a better Google ranking.’
     Now don’t get us wrong. In all modesty, we think our website isn’t at all bad. In fact, between you and us, we’re quite proud of it. But we couldn’t help thinking that a less extravagant-sounding word such as ‘nice’ or ‘attractive’ would have been nearer the mark. Mind you, he was trying to sell us something, so we did grant him some leeway. But it was the ending, ‘Have an awesome weekend’ that really got our Frenglish goat.
     It wasn’t as if we didn’t appreciate his politeness in wishing us something pleasant on parting. The French do it all the time. And it’s not that our weekends aren’t usually agreeable affairs. I mean, this Sunday – providing the weather’s reasonably nice – we’ll probably go out for a run in the car. And on Saturday, we’ve arranged to play a round of golf. But what could be awesome about this? What on earth could make it such a wondrous weekend in the true sense of the word? And then, all of a sudden, it struck us! Couldn’t anything so sublime only come from on High?
     Now, to be honest, we must confess that in our mature years we’ve become increasingly sceptical about the presence of a Supreme Being. Perhaps the seeds were sown in our English part’s formative years when both morning and afternoon dominical presence at church was mercilessly imposed. Mind you, we might possibly repent when we feel that last breath coming. But, right now, we’re in desperate need of some material proof of His existence. And we’d certainly be prepared to reassess our position if He decided to deposit a brand new Aston Martin DB11 Coupé in our garage (we don’t mind the colour as long as it’s not pink). Wouldn’t that be truly awesome?
     And, as for our golf, what if our usual drives, instead of systematically deviating to the right or left not much farther than we can spit, suddenly found themselves hurtling as straight as a dye for a distance worthy of Tiger Woods at his best? What if our twenty yard pitches, instead of failing miserably to attain the green, fell consistently within six inches of the flag? And what if our puts, instead of running a couple of times round the inner lip of the hole, and then defiantly popping out, were made to drop reverentially down with a satisfying plonk? Now, that would be more than awesome. That would be simply divine.

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘A potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required



© 2017 Call of France

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑