Paris to London.
From le pout to the stiff upper lip.
From chic to cheeky.
Paris and London are separated by 500 kilometers and bookloads of history. Like all of the countries in Europe, France and England have so much history they can’t put all of it in museums. They leave it out in the streets. Everywhere you go, and even the places you don’t, there is some piece of history sitting out in the elements, usually covered in pigeons or pigeon paint.
France and Britain both sprung from those mathematically-inclined Germanic tribes, who traveled around dividing Europe into one kingdom after another. The Franks settled the area now called France. (If you couldn’t help yourself and made cheap puns every chance you got, you might say it took a lot of Gaul to do that. If you were incorrigible, you might even say they built their kingdom with Gaul stones.)
Although the Franks were warriors and conquerors, as early as the 5th century, Saint Sidonius Appolinaris described them this way:
Their faces are shaven all round, and instead of beards they have thin moustaches, which they run through with a comb. Close fitting garments confine the tall limbs of the men, they are drawn up high so as to expose the knees, and a broad belt supports their narrow middle.
Even then, fashion mattered. Now, of course, the Parisians walk around in that insouciant way they have; the men smelling of debonair, and all the women looking like current or former ballerinas, wearing their casual sweaters and ballet slippers, with their red pouty lips licking Berthillon ice cream with aplomb (probably French for ‘tongue’).
Two hours away, Britain was overrun by Anglos, the hyphenated ones who put the ‘ax’ in Saxon and every head that got in their way. Fierce. Serious. Stoic. In 1066 the Normans (Frank and Viking mix) made the trip across the channel, axed the Anglo-Saxons and taught them multi-syllable words. Eventually the Normans assimilated and declared themselves English, so one wonders who conquered whom. The rest of the Franks stayed home, elected a King and realized they couldn’t be bothered with conquering and ruling the world; they had wine to drink, chocolate to eat, bread to butter, cheese to cut, followed by perfume, lots of it, and fashion to flaunt. Now they are the home of haute couture, haute cuisine, and haute dogs (poodles). Being haute is what makes them so cool.
Paris is for lovers; London is for raincoats.
I don’t mean to imply that one is better than the other. I would be happy to live in either place. Everywhere you looked in Paris, you saw lovers, and we really did need raincoats and umbrellas in London. But let’s be frank, or if you’re like me, let’s not be Frank because we aren’t. France, Paris in particular, represents culture and refinement. For an American like me, going to England/Britain/Great Britain/the United Kingdom/God Save the Queen! is like going home except that you don’t live there anymore and strange people are living in your house now. And they speak with an accent.
But how can you not love a country that puts bonnets on their cars and eats scones with clotted cream? No wonder the British almost conquered the world. After eating scones almost every day I was there, I began to doubt I would have been on the side of the American colonists during the Revolutionary War. (All that fuss over taxation without representation and look at us now: taxed while our representatives represent themselves, or if you were lucky enough to be born a corporation, representation without taxation.)
And now that I mentioned eating all of those scones, I know you are dying to ask: Did you gain a lot of pounds in England? Yes, I gained a lot at the train station when we first arrived, and it pained me to see them melt away so quickly. Unlike in America, in England, having a lot of pounds is a good thing.
Next installment: We travel in a Tube
(Note to readers: I may have omitted a few details in the history of France and England. I won’t tell if you won’t.)