From Aix-en-Provence with love

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“I have to say, man, your food’s kinda bad” is his first on learning that I’m from the UK, swiftly followed by a detailed conspiracy theory about Diana’s death in Paris. A Belgian friend and I had only been at the outdoor gym for a few minutes when the French group turned up and started a somewhat bizarre hour-long conversation in a mixture of English and French. As with every conversation I’ve had here after people realise I’m English, their main interest was in the royal family.

I have to agree with my new French friend (about our cuisine, not the MI5 hitjob). On a trip to the local hypermarché — think Gilesgate Tesco after six months of weights, protein shakes and illegal steroids — I stumbled across a British cuisine aisle. It consisted of only three things: Heinz beans (seems fair), crackers (not sure about that), and, wait for it, Canadian maple syrup. The only food I miss while abroad is Greggs, each branch of which has only slightly fewer vegan options than all the restaurants in this city of 100,000 people.

Regardless of their level, most locals reply to me in English

Funnily enough, I’ve properly spoken to more Americans here than French people, most of whom, in my lectures for second years at least, already have a group of friends. The Americans, in contrast, all want to learn my accent, although they’re still recovering from the discovery that not everyone speaks like either the Queen or Bert from Mary Poppins. Three minutes into Derry Girls, one asked me to turn the subtitles on — introducing her to my favourite Glaswegian comedians was much the same story.

Oh, and speaking French? Regardless of their level, most locals reply to me in English which is pretty frustrating. Colloquial French sometimes feels like a separate language to the formal variety: at the end of a two hour lecture on International Law in French which I can follow quite easily, someone next to me says something: I understand not a jot. Maybe some more Call My Agent is needed to work on my slang.

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