What England taught me: learn to listen and to shut up.

I am always dissing England but as I said before, I chose to move there and it was my home for years. A place I was eager to go back to because a place where I felt comfortable in my own skin, a place where I could reinvent myself far from the social shackles of France.

One of the thing England gave me is the ability to leave people be and to know when it’s not my place to intervene.

I always like to tease the English when they say they have the ability to just leave people alone. I always tell that they don’t, the only ability they have is to not give a shit about anybody but themselves. I am such a bitch!

But the truth is: I have changed a lot. I have also learnt silence: when to keep it, when to nurture it, when to attack with it. As an anxious person, I used to babble endlessly haunted by the silence of the other, feeling them creeping in my mind and reading who I was so I would just carry on talking. Now I have learnt to control the silence and my ability to wait for people to ask me about things rather than flood them with everything that flushes out my mind.

I spent virtually three days with my family celebrating Christmas from December 24th (yes, we are not Anglophones) to December 26th and I have discovered how much more restraint I was in conversations. I still tend to monopolise it if I initiate it but hey, I only initiate to show off and be the centre of attention so shush and listen!

What I observed was my family being French, very French: barging in conversations, not knowing what was said and what was agreed, just because they heard a sentence that triggered an opinion. And in France, there is this idea that when one has an opinion, one has to give it openly and the others must be grateful for such an act of dedication. Even if there is no consideration for others or question as to whether it is appropriate or even relevant.

I have hundreds of example: my brother taking my cousin apart to tell him that his girlfriend is a bitchy weirdo everyone hated. My cousin did not ask him anything but my brother felt like it was something worth saying.

My mother, grandmother and other cousin were talking about depression, support and medication in the kitchen, my uncle barging in and just starting to aggressively monopolise the conversation to expose his uneducated findings on the pluses and minuses of medication. He had no idea what the others were saying and nor did he care.

My other uncle questioning about my coming back to France until I realised he was not listening, just waiting to tell me that he disagreed with my choice. I see him twice a year and all he has to tell me is this? My mother told him about it in September so he has been saving it for months as well.

Sure, I had millions of opinions. Opinions I would have expressed loudly a couple of years ago. I would not have told my cousin what my brother said but ended up fighting with the latter about his being an absolute obnoxious dickhead. I would have joined the discussion about depression I was just watching from a chair next to the window because I do know a lot about depression but unlike my uncle I understood that it was just not for me to barge in. I was not involved. I would have gladly meddled in with my aunt and grandmother to tell the latter that her continuous smoking on the face of all her grandchildren for the past 30 years was way worse than us walking barefeet on the tiled floor. And definitely told my uncle to “Go find someone who cares!”.

And I did not. A couple of years ago, keeping what I thought to myself was an endless struggle. It was literally like trying to swallow down the vomit filling your mouth when you feel more is surging up your throat. Words and opinions were gushing out: I had to say it, people had to know the full extent of my agreement, disagreement or lack of care. And people had to submit to my desperate need to have the last word. Now I give it away gladly.

You will tell me that the family meddling in everyone’s business is everywhere but in France, it’s not just the family when that kind of things happen. I went to a training session and, after seven years of these in the UK, I have re-encountered something I completely forgot: the heckler, the attention-seeker, the only-child, the let’s-talk-about-me-myself-and-I.

In these trainings and meetings, there is only someone, sometime more, usually a man, who keeps interrupting the trainer to talk about how shameless is the amount of taxes we pay, how unfair and deceiving the State is, how things are better everywhere else – when he has actually never left his birth town or travelled abroad. There is always the one who abuses the question time to make it all about himself, to vent his anger, disappointment and try to rally us with me in an orgy of hatred against everything that takes his money away from his bank account – and blaming women.

In England, you meet these guys at the pub. In France, as well: the guy with a inflated red nose and heavy eyes who stinks of cheap English beer and who heckles you across the room to rant at the TV, politicians, immigrants, taxes, women and “poofters” who are ruining France. But in France, you also have these completely sober guys in meetings and trainings in a professional environment.

They are absolute strangers, you did not who they were in the morning and you forgot their name the second they said it but they are French and they have this sense of self-entitlement: they have their freedom of speech and they will use it, they will say what they want and you will put up with it whether you like it or not. Like a teenage bully.

This happens in England of course but as far as I am concerned, I must have seen it, what? Once or twice in seven years. No one ever stopped staff meetings, trainings and such to object out loud and initiate an utterly sterile debate because we know no one gives a shit and can’t wait to get back to actually do something productive. These people will ask questions at the end and if they are relevant and constructive, they will be mentioned in the next meeting.

Five months in France and they are fucking everywhere these people with an opinion that is always worth giving out loud, these people who are wasting everyone’s time with their problems and vendettas.

Now there is one issue with my France vs England: the social media. I say it doesn’t happen in England, however social medias, especially the ones which are heavily used by English speakers are riddled with cheap, easy, uneducated opinions, people lecturing strangers, telling them what to do and constantly venting their opinion. Take any videos on YouTube and read the comments. This is beyond anything you will ever encounter from the worst wino in the street.

In France, it doesn’t happen that much. It is true that we are not as tech-savvy or tech-addicted as English speakers (or me) can be – I am alien In France with my Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. People of my age with their Facebook as a self-advertising page just don’t get it.

To come back on the constant anger, outrage, venting and unsolicited opinions on the social media, I think it is because the English have learnt that they are expected to keep it for themselves in English society that they are happily using and abusing the anonymous status of social media to do what the French will do to your face.

It is not to say that the English are coward, just that they have social expectations and the social prejudice that stem from them pushing them to seek a different way to let it out. Someone who cannot control its mouth in England is automatically categorised as low-educated, working-class or drunk. It is the same in Scandinavian societies so I am wondering whether the place of religious as a private matter rather than a social matter has something to do with it. As a Catholic, you have to show off your faith whereas as a protestant, faith tends to be more private.

I say “tends” to be because it frankly doesn’t apply to the US…

So yes, I have come back to France more private and that’s also why I opened this blog. I used to just think people were there to listen to me soliloquise out loud on various aspect of life, I used to think it was always my duty to inform people of what my opinion was, I used to think I was allowed as a free human being to just barge into any kind of conversation.

Now I write here, for me and for who wants to read it. Now I spectate a lot, leaving people be until they ask me something. Sometimes I say something because I do feel it can bring something more, something they don’t know or constructive to the conversation. I don’t correct people on every single mistake they make like I used to because “I always know better so I must teach them” was my mantra – and I did my share of teaching.

Now if I feel I can’t keep my tongue for myself, I just “aloofly” leave the room.

England taught me to be more considerate of people and more civilised. More aloof too, yes, but I like that. I can watch and observe people more.

“Less social” the French likes to say.

“Do you the story of the meddlesome dog who always sticks his nose in places where it does not belong? It’s too busy listening to the neighbours and gets run over by a bus”. I like to reply.


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