Can it be true? To be continental, we must first become more British?
Sunday 28 February 1999
On the face of it, this is all quite obvious. I think most of us admit, in private moments, that French lingerie is better than Yorkshire pudding, for example. A holiday in Tuscany sounds more enticing than a holiday in Torquay. Latins knowing more about the good life than Anglo-Saxons is a cliche as old as viticulture and olive oil production, and anyone who tries to deny it probably has a paranoid complex about the need to keep the Queen on their pound coins as well.
I am not sure if this means that the British lifestyle is, indeed, worse than everybody else's, or if it simply means that they are more self-deprecating than other people. But either way, what worried me about La Folie Anglaise was the tragic contradiction contained in the concept: that a hopeless infatuation for all things Mediterranean was, in fact, every bit as English as grey weather, scones and whipped cream. And it took those horribly sophisticated French to spot it.
In other words - speaking as an Englishman - I am caught in a French- style vice. No matter how crusty I bake my bread, no matter how smelly I cultivate my camembert, no matter how dark I stain my wine carafes and no matter how deeply I gash my kitchen table, all I ever succeed in doing is confirming my fundamental, boorish Englishness.
At this rate I might as well throw away my Italian silk T-shirt collection now and buy a bowler hat, frock-coat and umbrella. You thought that using a pestle and mortar and electric parmesan grater would improve your sex- life? Sorry. Being embarrassed about English cuisine turns out to be nothing more than an essential facet of what it was that made that cuisine so awful in the first place: namely, your Britishness.
I suppose the only sensible reaction really might be to go out and invest in an electric scone mixer, or lie down in a bed of wet stinging nettles in Dorset; or possibly even to go the whole hog and spend a fortnight holidaying in a boarding house in Torquay. Only by acting British, it seems, will I be able to escape from being British. Only by refusing to eat foie gras have I got any hope of emulating the French.
Confused? Depressed? Me too. Unless of course, the French have got it all wrong. Being British, I find that quite impossible to believe.
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