London calling to the faraway towns: what I learnt about my cultural identity as a British culture enthusiast


           I am a child of the Mediterranean coast. A French girl, born in Aix-en-Provence, a lovely and sunny town in the south of France. Yet, I also have Spanish and Italian origins. As a result, I have been raised in a family which values the Latin culture. Of course, my cultural identity is composed of different European cultures, and I feel very lucky to “come from” all of these amazing countries. I learnt these languages at school (my family surprisingly does not speak any of these languages as they have been extremely influenced by their French heritage) and I can still understand them perfectly. I then became passionate about another language… What happens when you fall in love with another culture and that it slowly becomes an important part of your life? I picture the English language as being the sexy guy who makes you forget about your husband: you cannot resist him and you just fly away from your well-ordered existence in order to discover new, exciting adventures. This is London Calling… and I have listened to this song for minutes, hours, days, months and years…

        My love for the English language was first sparked when I was a little girl. My mum had always appreciated British culture and she wanted me to learn the language perfectly before going to school. She used to buy copies of “Disney’s Magic English” videos and  “Vocable ” books (a children’s magazine for learning English). Yet in reality, she never “forced” me to become interested in this language. I was naturally attracted to this culture and kept listening and reading all the time, repeating each word until I could reproduce the “perfect” British accent. As soon as I returned to school after the holidays, I asked my teacher to find me a British penpal. I cannot explain why, but my life was subsequently cut in two parts as I would speak French with my family and English with my friends. Indeed, there was an international class in my high school and there, I made friends with British and American people. Although I could not express myself very well without a heavy French accent (which is why they called me “Frenchie”), I tried to improve my skills by working harder to master the language, and getting help from my friends was very useful. I was hungry to learn more words and more expressions in order to fully communicate with my pals. It was rather frustrating to not be able to say what I would have expressed easily in French, and these “silent ” moments were a bit embarrassing. However, I was conscious that I needed more time to get immersed in this interesting culture – and practice makes perfect, doesn’t it ?

         I studied English every day – from school to university. Learning a language is a daunting task. Don’t expect to stay in your bed with some Doritos while watching Netflix series with French subtitles. The most challenging thing was to push myself to stop thinking in French. It hardly works and your sentences will sound like a strange mix of Franglais with questionable grammar structure. I believe it is definitely the hardest part of the whole process. Moreover, as someone who is passionate about literature, I have also always been keen on understanding the subtle meaning of words. The English language is full of compelling expressions and words which have a variety of connotations. When you think about it, “to love”, “to like” and “to enjoy” all mean “aimer” in French while in English, you use them in different contexts to create different meanings– and this is what I find magical about this language. I aspire to become a journalist in England because my dream has always been to be able to speak the language as perfectly as these amazing people I hear on the radio and to have an English writing style as smooth as possible.

          Nevertheless, the language is not the only part of the “British culture package” that I admire. Studying English all the time was not the only way to extend my knowledge for my future career. Travelling around England also remained a vital opportunity to explore more vigorously the culture. I travelled a lot in eastern England between the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2017. I can agree with what many people have always told me: the best way to learn a language is to purchase a plane ticket and to live in the country. I stayed in Norwich City for several months, and found that my interactions with locals were completely different from my expectations. I needed to adapt to this culture – even when it came to finer details such as ordering “mushy peas” with your chips (and not to say “french fries”), putting milk in your tea (or coffee…), watching Jamie Oliver’s healthy cooking shows (and Rick Stein’s famous food tours), enjoying a curry before  several drinks in a pub, eating a mince pie for Christmas (it’s not made of meat and is quite sugary!), or being able to name all the supermarkets brands (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Marks & Spencer etc)… I could not speak French as it is pretty rare to find people who can express themselves fluently in my mother tongue, so this was a challenging period of my life where my perception of the British culture changed. The more I got involved in events, tours, parties, festivals, art exhibitions, meetings, the closer I felt to the British people. I think it was funny to see a regular French girl eating some fish and chips in Cromer or walking around Aldeburgh – although I was pleased to find a “L’Occitane” shop there! I thus learnt many things about British culture in the east of England. However, I gained another perspective when I visited London.

        London is my favourite city and is considered the cradle of multiculturalism. Many French people live alongside many other nationalities. While running to catch the metro, you can easily jostle a Pakistani guy, a Polish girl or a Spanish child. People from all around the world live in London – which makes this city even more fascinating. Going to London made me realize that there was not “one British identity”. I could hear many different accents – consequently, many different ways of speaking English. The language became suddenly versatile and open to transformations, intonations, tones, new words and expressions… This led me to think of my origins – which I had deliberately put aside in order to absorb as much as British culture as I could. However, the fact remains that I’m French, and I’m proud to be French. I also have Spanish and Italian blood – and I’m proud of that as well. I love British culture, and although I don’t come from the U.K, I feel like I have built my own British identity through the years by moving to London and studying and working there as a journalist. I remember that someone once told me I could never be a broadcast journalist in England because of my accent. If that’s the case, could this person explain to me why there are so many beautiful accents that resonate throughout London? As far as I’m concerned, the diversity of my Latin background constituted a genuine advantage to integrate into British culture. Indeed, it is not about where you come from but how you contribute to the country to make it stronger, and diversity is what makes London an attractive city. It dismantles the borders and gives everybody a chance to play their part in the culture.

           To be honest, I have never loved my enthusiastic French accent as much as I do now, and I hope that I’ll be able to add a je ne sais quoi to your language.