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Gainsbourg & Birkin
Life and Style

Marrying a Brit: a good idea?

By Adrienne Benassy

You fell in love with England even before you arrived for the first time.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Monty Python, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde or Danny Boyle had already convinced you of the UK’s greatness. So when you meet him/her, you are already in love with the idea of England. No need for him/her to lay on the British Touch too thickly, you are already under the spell and everything is wonderful. Just one small thing: you are a Frog, he / she is a "rosbif". No big deal you may say. The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) is a long way behind us and the French and the Brits are no longer the best of enemies they used to be. But make no mistake, peace has not necessarily broken out amongst Franco-British couples. Here are a few cultural differences that could affect household harmony more than you think. 

Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg
Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

Punctuality: At first glance, nothing seems better than a woman or a man who does not stick to the French rule of being 15 minutes late. For once, you will be on time for family reunions on Sundays, you will never miss the beginning of a movie and with a little luck you will be five minutes early everywhere you go. The English do not like to rush into anything at the last minute. So far so good. But this obsessive (to the French) punctuality and this unshakable calm quickly becomes monotonous. The Brits like to make plans. And not a fake one like the French. By this I mean, they stick to what they have decided to do, not like most of the Gauls who deviate from it all the time depending on their sudden desires and ideas. Obviously, they are not all the same and some English enjoy wandering about a city aimlessly, sitting for hours in a charming café. But one of the cultural differences that could get on your nerves could be their lack of taste for the unexpected. At the end of the day, there is no big deal, you will get over it and your partner will not stand your carelessness very long either. 

Anna Karina & Jean-Paul Belmondo dans Pierrot Le Fou
Anna Karina & Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot Le Fou

Your dishes: The era of English-junk-food is over. You have no reason to fear the The-Sun-wrapped fish and chips or daily fast food as an obesity-diet.

The Brits are maybe not perfect cooks like your French grand mother, but they are far from being kitchen dummies (as most French people think). Actually, London has its fair share of restaurants compared to the gastronomic paradise that Paris used to be. In fact, the Brits love to cook, but unlike the French, they were not born to it. From a very young age, French kids are taught how to make daily meals and they can knock up a tasty meal in a few minutes. As for the Brits, they prefer to follow recipes as their parents rarely showed them how to make anything. Not all of them, of course. But if you expect them to take a quick look in the fridge and prepare a delicious homemade dish like “maman”, you are daydreaming. In the UK making the meal is not natural it is an effort. So do not be rude, compliment him/her as soon as something comes out of the kitchen and buy recipe books to inspire your loved one.


Your grumpy comments: Complimenting your partner on every dish might seem quite excessive to you, but it is essential to the Brits. If, being French, you are prone to making critical/helpful comments such as “There is not enough salt in this”, "It was better last time”, “You really don’t know how to make a Tarte Tatin”, “It’s not a myth, the Brits do not know how to cook”, you might be better off keeping your comments for yourself. During a dinner with English people, you might notice everyone will compliment the cook even if what she/he did is not fantastic. You might even hear a “mmm, delicious”. But do not laugh or make any critical comments. The Brits would never openly criticise a dish that required a certain effort. At worst, they might venture an ironic comments such as: “You must have bought that at Marks and Sparks” (which means anything from “It’s really good, you can’t have baked that yourself” to “It’s no good, but it’s not your fault”). Fair enough, in your house at home in France, everybody criticises everybody else, but here negative comments are a faux pas.

Agnés Jaoui et Jean-Pierre Bacri dans Un Air de Famille
Agnés Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri in Un Air de Famille

Culinary surprises: And yet some of their national dishes well and truly deserve your veto once in a while. English cuisine has evolved, but some remnants of their dubious food are still in use today. One of the most striking examples is their baked beans on toast.

First of all, The French do not even know what they are. But all the Brits have this war-rationing-like tin in their cupboard. The nicest part comes when you open it. A reddish mish-mash so-called “tomato sauce” covers up some white beans. Actually, they taste better than they look, especially with mushrooms, sausages and bacon for a typical English breakfast. However, things become strange when the Brits shove them on a buttered piece of toast. And by marrying a Brit, you are taking the risk, at best, of having to eat them too, at worst, seeing her/he take loads of tins with you each time you go back to France.

Your family meals: The real problem is not so much what you eat, but how. A French dinner usually happens as follows: “Dinner is served.” Silence. "Dinneeerrr is serveeeeeeed" Once. Twice. Three times. After numerous attempts, you will get an "I am cominnnnnnnng" from your loved ones shouting from the other end of the house. Ten minutes later, everyone is around the table. Hostilities can begin.


The Dreamers
The Dreamers

One starts telling about his day. A few sentences later, his father cuts in to add something, then his mother, the sister follows, then comes the brother. The discussion heats up. People get emotional. It is a war as to who will speak the loudest to get heard. And a Brit will not survive long in such a mad least not the first time.


Les Bronzés font du ski
Les Bronzés font du ski

The English will expect you to be polite and respectful when others are speaking. If you shout in his/her face, he/she will surely answer in a diplomatic manner, without raising his voice. For him/her we are nonetheless barbaric creatures that bark at each other while we stuff ourselves with smelly cheese. But as the law of the jungle ususally prevails, it will not be too long before he/she loses his/her temper.  At best, they will moderate your moods; at worst they will convert to your erattic behaviour. And then, you will probably regret pushing them too far... Sweet was the time of his/her polite interjections such as "I do understand your point, however I would add that… ". Unfortunately, they have now understood the "art" of French conversation.

Quatre mariages et un enterrement
Four weddings and a funeral

Their tea: You might wonder how they constantly maintain their composure, their legendary politeness and calm. Just spend a day with a Brit and you will get what drives them: tea. This sounds like a blunt stereotype, but it is utterly true. At any time of the day or of the night, they fill up their favourite mug with their Twinings goodies. And when I say all the time, I mean it. First thing in the morning, they put the kettle on (and this expression hardly exists in France). First thing when they arrive at work: putting the kettle on. Before and after lunch, for every break, when they come back home, before going to bed: putting the kettle on is part of British way of life. And not only do they do it for themselves, but they ask you to put the kettle on too (understand: could you please make me a cup of tea, commonly called a “cuppa’ tea”). Be prepared to see your kitchen full of teapots and tea accessories, because every pot makes different tea, right? 


Judi Dench drinking tea
Judi Dench drinking tea

Their drinking habits: Their love of tea is probably correlated with their love of alcohol. Get over it. The Brits love to have a pint, and not just one. They do get wasted on a Friday night and disagreeable scenes in the street is common. Of course things change, the English increasingly frown upon binge drinking and are more aware of their consumption. But between the familiarisation of the French with wine tasting from a very young age, and the massive consumption of the English, there is a world of difference.



Sociability: Drinking so much might seem appalling but it actually contributes to one good thing: their social life. If there is just one thing of the English that you do not want to change that is it. Their parties are funnier and crazier, it is a fact. If it is a costume party, everyone will play the game without fearing ridicul. If it is a concert, they will come to enjoy the music and let themselves go. They will also come to speak to you if they do not know you, unlike the French who tend to stay in their comfort-zone and hang around only with their friends. The English have more fun, that is what you like about them, so do not change anything there.

Their music: The superiority of British rock and roll is indisputable. Rock classics like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Status Quo, or soul such as Amy Winehouse, or today's rock with Kasabian and Kaiser Chiefs and many more prove that the English know how to create good vibes.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger

Their accent: You cannot deny this, it is charming. "Le chaise" (the seat) and "la chien" (The dog) will irritate you, but these errors fade away with time and bring some freshness to the French language. Not to mention that your children will be fully bilingual, an undeniable advantage today.

Moral of the story: Everything that first seemed nice will start to annoy you (punctuality, calm). Everything that seemed awful will maybe charm you. Who knows, you might finish up loving baked-beans-on-toast? At the end of the day, your confrontation with British culture will depend a lot on which type of Brits you encounter. But in the end, Franco-British couples have to work so hard to understand their differences from the beginning that it may create stronger fundations for a lasting relationship... Good luck!


11/09/2016 - maeva.gcb said :

L'article m'a fait beaucoup rire même si aujourd'hui les différences sont beaucoup moins notables! Les Baked Beans ont été notre sauveur plus d'une fois et je les adore ! A contrario mon petit ami anglais n'a pas vraiment le goût de la cup of tea c'est plutôt moi qui ai investi le placard à thés. Par contre sa famille a carrément un robinet bouilloire et on entend souvent "anyone for a bru?". La diplomatie anglaise est vraiment quelque chose de flagrant comme le souligne l'article! Ça a même tendance a vraiment m'agacer parfois même si ça a son avantage diplomatique ça en devient absurde, je me rappelle qu'une fois mon copain s'était caché derrière la carte du menu quand j'avais dit "everything is perfect I was just hoping for more toppings on my pizza I have a poor duel of 2 mushrooms!" à la serveuse qui m'avait demandé si tout se passait bien (bah ouais attends ma cocotte on a déjà le change qui fait mal ^^). mais on en rigole bien je pense que la différence ne fait que consolider les liens (mon gentleman a appris "à l'ouvrir" comme on dit et il apprécie l'ouverture d'esprit et la facilité française à parler de certains sujets comme la sexualité ou la mort qui sont souvent touchy! En revanche je n'ai rencontré aucun anglais fan des Beatles! J'avais une longue histoire d'amour avec l'Angleterre qui n'a fait que se renforcer pour ma part !! Comme dirait Desproges "l'ouverture d'esprit n'est pas une fracture du crâne!" ;)

13/01/2014 - s.pollock-hill said :

As a brit I drink Twinning tea ever day. Earl Grey in the morning and Lapsong Souchong in the after noon!
The "english tea" you sell in France is too insipid even fauchon's own blend is more like a mild tisaine. Good english tea should revive you, refresh you and quench your thirst. Coffe is to wake you up the stronger the better for that!
English v French? Vive la difference. At least les pretty french girls are perfumed with garlic and Gitanes or Gauloises than in my youth!

22/07/2013 - s.pollock-hill said :

Vive la difference I say. How boring if the English and French were too similar.
You have forgotten our sporting prowess....!
Dare one mention the Tour de France back to back victories, the Olympic success, Wimbledon, Cricket, our football clubs -with many good French players- bien sur, our Rugby team...
our love of our great monarch and her family, our modesty,our sang-froid, our humour,and our ability to make fun of ourselves, eg Fawlty Towers.
Ok we may lack French romance, and our film industry may disappoint, as our climate- but not the last three weeksand our women be less chic,
As for politeness, British drivers, English gentlemen's manners towards women, and the inability of an Englishman to "pisser au bord de la route"! show a pride and a breeding.
As regards La Guerre de Cent Ans have you forgotten the Battle of the Nile, Aboukir Bay , Trafalgar and Waterloo?
I am reminded of the Frenchman who first came to London and asked why stations and squares were named after battle defeats!
The world would be a much poorer place without our rivalaries in sport, cuisine or in culture.
PS Que ce que c'est "The Monty Python", a new sexual position perhaps!
I think you mean "Monty Python's Flying Circus"

14/07/2013 - boyarduk said :

some true statements. other " stereotyped ". Married for better of worse to a typical Yorkshire man for more than 30 years I have learnt to accept our different way of life. Yes he's a bit " phlegmatic " as us Frenchies like to say, but when it comes to cooking, the British have improved tremendously,I adore James Martin (yes he's a Yorkshireman too!) and there are quite a few British celebrity chefs whith talent. The main difference is that the French do not need to get drunk to enjoy a good time. In Britain it seems to be a "must" to go out and drink pint after pint to prove oneself..... every weekend. I have never yielded to this way of life, pardon the pun " Not my cup of tea"!!! By the way In France one can find Tetley tea but a lot less than the very well known Twinnings. I fetched a lovely collectable special edition of Twinning tea from one of the supermarkets there on year.It is true that the French have a critizising way of going about it but it is part of their personality, just like the famous and fantastic British Humour.. just do not categorize instantly.. after all we French had Jaques Tati quite a few years ago and he had a good sense of humour I would say non??

06/07/2013 - annie45hl said :

the descriptions are a bit naive and generalised. I have lived in London for over 50 years, and experienced great diversity in the Brits.

05/07/2013 - misc1 said :

mais, c'est pas possible:-)

French man, married to a French woman. Became British after 20 y in UK - not English, that would take about 10 generations if not 20 to become one. Remind me, Guillaume the Conqueror, that was about 20 generations ago, WASN'T IT (or "n'est-il pas" as Asterix would say).
Anyway. Very funny article. Baked beans, not my "cup of tea". Once a year maybe?

But, But But (the second and third time with the French accent). What about marmite? Not a word? Maybe because this intended to French speaking people, and they would not even know about this secret product that is Marmite. A bit like the "potion magique" that Asterix uses :-)

29/06/2013 - jujubdale said :

So,funny and so true. I was married to a French man for over 20 years and recognise so many of there querky ways and habits. The article is written in a very humerous way after a lot of very accurate observations!!

29/06/2013 - flemingi54 said :

If asked if it is a good thing marrying a Brit I would say no. You loose a lot, your family, your way of life, etc...No matter how positive you try to be it's not the same, c'est tout!

27/06/2013 - tony.thomas said :

As a British Francophile, I found the article very amusing and also somewhat flattering (if not a touch stereotypical but it's hard not to be on a subject like this).

And for the exception to prove the rule, I don't drink tea (but I love haricots blancs à la sauce tomate! ).

27/06/2013 - said :

As the author of the article, I just would like to remark that it should not be taken word for word. It's second degree, obviously not a perfectly accurate description of British people. And the title speaks for itself: there is no real answer to 'Marrying a Brit: a good idea?'. It’s just an exaggeration in which some Franco-British couples may recognize themselves. At least my English mum and French father might… As for the Twinings tea... well it's just a recognisable brand as I'm not sure the French are too aware of Tetley and Yorkshire tea. Just one last thing: my family is from Yorkshire, so I’m sure the 'lads' and 'lasses' I know from 'Up-north' will be flattered to be rather posh British people...

27/06/2013 - frauckland said :

I married my British husband nearly 40 years ago and this article is very funny and very true !
In my family (very french) they all love mint sauce, baked beans and my husband loves frogs, oysters etc ....

27/06/2013 - corcoranwriter said :

Twinings is tea for export. I don't know one Brit who drinks it. We prefer: Tetley, Yorkshire Tea, Sainsbury's Red label.

27/06/2013 - ententecordiale37 said :

I think you must know quite posh British people, who can afford twinnings,(I'm more of an own brand kind of girl) and who sit around a table to eat dinner. Also, I don't think that French people, and I live in France, are really very spontaneous at all. I think they are good at sitting around not doing much with alcohol. I think it is easy to exgerrate the differences but in fact there are very few. Plus, my French husband can't cook at all.

27/06/2013 - uta-uri said :

I know a lovely French lady near Nontron who adores baked beans, bacon & eggs, fish & chips, tea, my curries and is pretty punctuel too.

27/06/2013 - severine.m.meunier said :

I married a Brit and I can confirm that I drive him crazy on a fairly regular basis... In spite--or perhaps because--of that he seems to miss me and my temper when I'm away! As to me, I love his eccentricities and he makes me laugh so hard about things I could easily take too seriously. We have 2 beautiful boys!

26/06/2013 - cdougan said :

I married my British husband exactly 20 years ago today, I am used to the way of living now, however I still I miss the spontaneity of French people and the variety of good food, and politeness sometimes is so hypocritical and lacks of sincerity ,I prefer the warmth of Mediterranean climate and people.

26/06/2013 - ben.gott said :

What a load of junk.

26/06/2013 - Michele.losse said :

I have been married to a Brit for almost 30 years and I love it. I have learnt to love the British sense of humour, fair play, and above all tolerance towards others. Living here has given me the opportunity to look at France in a more detached and objective way.


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