The Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Culture Online project is looking for icons representing England. The cup of tea is one of the candidates and it’s my personal favourite. I didn’t drink tea when I arrived in England but I quickly learned that accepting people’s offer of "a nice cup of tea" and making happy noises while sipping my mug was a sure way to win their hearts.
Living here has shown me that when French people say that English people constantly drink tea, they’re not just repeating a tired stereotype. Similarly, the Brits have a very clear image of what a French person looks like: a cyclist wearing a stripy top and onions round his neck. Where on earth does that image come from? I went to an "ancestors party" last year, where everyone had to dress up as one of their ancestors, and I was persuaded to don a stripy top and a string of onions, as I was assured that that’s what French people look like (in British folklore). Funnily enough, there was another French person there who was wearing exactly the same "French costume" and was as intrigued as me as to its origins. Like me, she had never met anyone favouring this particular attire in France. Any ideas?