Do I feel French or English, and how does this impact on my work? It’s a question I find difficult, because I know both cultures intimately and feel comfortable in both countries. As a matter of fact, I’ve lived here so long that I often feel closer to England, particularly because of my knowledge of popular culture; when I go back to France, it can be bewildering to see all the new faces on the television. However, this weekend for a good five minutes, I felt extremely French.
I was having lunch a local French-owned café on Saturday when I suddenly realised that they were playing the song “Laissez-moi danser” by Dalida. I looked up and was almost surprised to not be able to share a smile with any other customer; Dalida used to be very popular in France in the 60s and 70s, becoming one of those characters who leave their mark on a country’s musical history, like Claude François. Although by the time I was old enough to enjoy music, she was decidedly uncool among my generation, her songs are extremely familiar to me and I found myself happily humming along.
Discussing the song with my friends in the cafe made me think about the cultural references that we all take for granted. I sometimes find myself disengaged from friends’ conversations about old TV programmes, children’s sweets or singers who never made it outside of the UK.
While I am still very much in touch with what goes on in France, I now know current English cultural and political life so much better. I think I’m a much better translator for having lived in the UK for so long, because I really am able to grasp every nuance of an English document, which would be more difficult if I only limited my knowledge of this country to short visits. I think the things I miss out on in France are entirely superficial, and mainly related to the ephemeral popular culture. My main concern is to prevent English from contaminating my French.
So, French or English? I’d say a happy mix of both cultures. In fact, after my croque-monsieur on Saturday, the urge to have a cup of tea was too strong to resist. And it was lovely.