The day I turned into a Frenchman

When two men from the country's most uptight family kiss, something important is going on
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The Independent Culture
I WAS kissing Roger the other day when it occurred to me that, somewhere along the line, my life had changed. It was a brief, fumbling event at a moment when one or both of us was going through some kind of emotional crisis. Being tearful, artistic types, we're never far from the edge, and it seemed only right, when greeting him, to fall on his shoulder and grapple for a few seconds in manful, wordless emotion. Frankly, I liked the experience, although I rather wished he had taken the trouble to shave that morning.

Having recently read Alan Hollinghurst's brilliant new novel The Spell - a gay tale which has the effect of making the straight lifestyle seem strangely dull and inactive - I wondered at first whether some dramatic geological shift was taking place within my sexuality. Then I realised that what was happening was far more serious. I was turning into a Frenchman.

It was something of a relief to discover from the Sunday newspapers that I am not alone. In one, the sports minister Tony Banks was photographed cheek-to-cheek with the actor Michael Cashman; in another, the Princes Charles and Andrew were in each others' arms. Even allowing for the fact that the royal embrace belonged to the British school of social kissing - faces turned so far away from one another that the point of the contact is the back of each others' heads - it's surely undeniable that, when two men from the country's most uptight family kiss one another in public, something important is going on.

At the very moment when what's left of the Conservative Party has fallen into the hands of Eurosceptics, when the Sun is gearing itself for yet another absurd Save-Our-Quid campaign, when beer-bellied crop-heads are roaming through France expressing their patriotism, a huge part of the population is, without a fuss, going over to the other side and becoming European.

So far, there has been a certain endearing gaucheness to our approach. Our all-male embraces are shy, tentative affairs. The obligatory second, or even third peck on the cheek now widely expected in man-woman or woman- woman social embraces has yet to be universally accepted and can sometimes leave one humiliatingly kissing air. When the country's favourite reformed hard man Tony Adams offered a Gallic handshake at the end of the game against Romania, the opposing player looked at him as if he had gone completely mad. The attempt by our restaurants to develop a cafe life by putting tables out on the pavement merely means that we take our roadside cappuccinos coated in a layer diesel fuel.

In other words, we need guidance from Brussels, a series of target areas in which our stubborn native characters can be thawed and improved by a gentle process of Eurofication.

Sex symbols. From Barbara Windsor to Ginger Spice, from Sam Fox to Melinda Messenger, the traditional English pin-up has been selected for her very lack of sexiness, representing a naughty-but-nice, seaside postcard version of sexuality that is comic and unthreatening. The imminent disappearance of the Sun page three girl is the first step along a path which should lead us to the establishment of a new and revolutionary kind of British sex symbol - one that is actually sexy.

Shooting small birds. The campaign by English farmers to rid the countryside of skylarks, lapwings, song-thrushes and other menaces to quiet and productivity has so far been limited to tearing up hedgerows, deploying chemicals and using intensive farming methods. French sportsmen have recently shown us a more dramatic and enjoyable way of hitting these little devils where it hurts - by extending the shooting season by six weeks into the breeding season. Just because the Europeans have the first crack at the migrating birds, it doesn't mean we can't compete in our own robust way.

Adultery. Now going through something of a boom period, English infidelity still remains a furtive business, hedged with shame and social opprobrium. Only when a senior minister of the crown is openly sophisticated in this area in the manner pioneered by Sir James Goldsmith or President Mitterand will we have evolved culturally from the grim, traditional British shag to the sensuous European affaire.

Getting children hooked on alcohol at an early age. Surely to goodness it's time to take a more grown-up approach by cutting our young children's Ribena with an acceptable red Bordeaux, gradually increasing the dose until, by the time they reach puberty, they have a sophisticated palate and a brain carefully matured in alcohol. In other words, kissing's just the start. Let's get Eurofied now.

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