I have just returned from a couple of days in France (more about this on the blog soon). Sat on the Eurostar on the way home, I got thinking how different my life could have been.
If the dice had landed differently, you see, I would have been raised French. I have the one French parent and, while born in the UK, lived in France while a baby.
When my parents divorced, I came back to Blighty. My fate was sealed: I was raised a Brit.
I could allow this blog post to descend into some puerile and extremely un-funny series of stereotypes, You know, how I almost ended up eating snails, smelling of onions and having a litany of mistresses. Alas, that would be incredibly dull. Trust me, I faced enough of this rubbish while at school. We’ll move on shall we?
To be clear, I was born a British Citizen. Even so, the French seemed quite keen on the idea of having me in their gang. Not only did they actively want me to be French, they foresaw a military career for me.
At the age of 18, you see, I received a call-up card and a formal but polite letter asking if I’d care to become a French citizen and undertake a spell of national service. Yes, you read that correctly, I received a call-up card. I was to report for duty at Perpignan barracks in the South West of the country…or risk being arrested and thrown into the army if I ever entered France.
Thankfully it was a relatively straightforward administrative process to dodge the draft. Even so, it was a tense time as one or two influential members of my British family thought I should go ahead and do it (thanks guys).
I can barely string a sentence together in French. Imagine me wearing a khaki uniform and defending the Fifth Republic when I can’t even say “Defending the Fifth Republic” in French? Well, I can do the last bit: Cinquieme Republique but saying the word “defend” or putting it in anything other than the present tense? No, no, no, c’est pas possible.
Instead of learning to love French gastronomy, I grew up loving roast beef and curry. In fact, I have an amusing story about French gastronomy.
Some years ago I paid a visit to my French family. One relative, apparently a vegetarian, arrived at the dinner table with a huge bowl of salad:
“Voila, salade foie gras!”
That was probably one of the most confusing and amusing moments of my life. Many years later I still laugh at that occasion.
As a boy I played British Bulldog instead of boules. I never learned the French language, certainly not properly, and so I learned to enjoy Orwell, Steinbeck and Zadie Smith instead of Proust, Satre and Verne.
If I’d been raised French, August would have been one long, sun-drenched holiday in Cannes, Nice or St Tropez, even as an employee with a job. Instead it is a rain filled wash out. Oh yeah, and as a Frenchman, I wouldn’t be obsessed with the weather.
I’d have been educated in a school system where philosophy is taught from a young age and in a society distrustful of capitalism. This would have been difficult for me as I concede I’m quite keen on entrepreneurship and benefiting from your own hard work.
Looking at my later life, it would have been much more difficult for me to become a stay at home dad if I’d been French. When it comes to such matters, the UK is far from perfect, but France is way behind. To be honest, if I’d been raised French, it probably wouldn’t have happened. Oh, yeah, and if I’d become a blogger, I guess it would have been Papablogfr.com.
Okay, so I’m efectively looking into a crystal ball trying to imagine what might have been. I have no idea what a French John Adams would have achieved and the experiences he would have had. I make no comment as to whether life would have been better or worse. I can safely say, however, that it would have been tres different indeed.