By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French
The Croft Magazine // In the final Letter from Paris, Xander Brett discusses what he has learnt in his nine months in France, as well as the British-French relationship.
30th May, 2021
I’m writing this letter the day before I leave Paris and travel to London from the Gare du Nord. When the episode is released, I’ll have spent almost five weeks away from the Île Saint-Louis. I’ll be missing the rhythm of daily life… the tabac reopened just as I left. This has been a disrupted year, perhaps. A game of two halves, certainly. But I leave with an understanding of France and comprehension of French.
For the past nine months, I’ve been your correspondent here. I said in my first letter, back on 20th September 2020, I hoped my stereotypes of France would be challenged. Well, I’ve certainly fallen out of love with 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 of fragmented identities. Paris and the Île de France region is exactly that: an island of pure Frenchness in a diverse landscape. It’s a melting pot that delivers a pre-packaged slice of France and Europe. For they are one and the same.
I enjoyed cooking, reading French newspapers and watching French television. While Brits switch on the radio, we in France switch on the television each morning. It seems a terrible habit the French have televisions in their kitchens, but it means Télématin can come through to the breakfast table. Of course, for the rest of the day I’m tuned to the radio and my pre-set: a pretentious arts and philosophy channel, France Culture. On Sunday mornings, editing the letters, it’s a cool alternative of modern jazz, Fip. When I wasn’t at home and university, I was travelling to every arrondissement of Paris and every region of France, spilling into its neighbours and putting pins on my map.
As I’ve said so many times, the idea the French dislike us is absurd. Really, there are two things Britain does better, according to France: music and royalty. The hysteria of a royal pregnancy alone sent Télématin into spirals. In 1789, the French were given a choice. In fact, they were offered the same choice in 1830. Would they like a monarchy? Both times, they rolled out the guillotine and said ‘no’. So, now they sponge off ours. Our Queen is adored, and she plays to their fascination by charming them in impeccable French. Speaking to Adam Sage, the Times Paris Correspondent, I was told of the countless British journalists invited onto French television to discuss a royal birth, only to discover everyone else knows much more than they do. He often gets calls for comments before he knows the baby has been born.
As I end Letters from Paris, I’m reminded again of what Hugh Schofield, the BBC Paris Correspondent, told me. ‘The thing about France,’ he said, ‘is that Brits are either overly dismissive or overly infatuated by it’. My life in Paris showed me it’s still the nation of good wine, classic literature and fine romance. It’s appropriate that now I’ve lived in Paris, my grandparents are packing up their home in the Gers. For both of us, it’s a farewell to France.
Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett
Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris' here.