Category Archives: Culture

I am unpatriotic whore, apparently.

The first time my “whoring” became apparent to me was 15 years ago when my parents invited a couple of friends over. The discussion at the table, at which I was expected to stay, somehow ended up on my speaking English on the Internet: have status in English on MSN chat for instance, taking active part in English-speaking forums about footballers I fancied and more broadly on my listening to practically only English.

The husband had objections and I can’t recall exactly how it came to that but I said: “Using English is also easier to communicate and look for things you need.” To which he replies “So you are prostituting yourself.” He had the idea that my speaking English on the Internet instead of sticking to French, and especially using English when French could be used (i.e. on MSN with some of my French friends) was like a prostitute who can’t be bothered to get a proper job to make a living. She instead opens her legs because she is certain to get the money and akin to her, I was willingly selling out my culture, myself, my identity to get what I want instead of sticking to my language, no matter whom I was interacting with, because it is easier that way. I should be working hard to establish myself as I am but instead I was sleeping with the boss to get there.

As I was mentioning this very conversation to a friend, she bounced back on my use of English, something I never used with her, but when she fathomed the scale of my willingness to learn it, speak it and use it, she simply asked “Why do you want to lose your mother tongue?” For her, actively learning and enjoying the speaking of another language to which I had no family ties whatsoever was an act of forsaking my own language. In her mind, I couldn’t have both. One was going to take over. It wasn’t about whoring myself to get it easy anymore but willingly rejecting my whole self for unfathomable reasons.

The questioning of my patriotism came with another former friend. “Former” because there are certain things I only take from foes, not friends. Again, we were on the subject of my listening to almost exclusively English-speaking music. She was going through my CD collections – no MP3 players at the time – and ruing the absence of French but for a couple of artists out of a 100 or so. She asked why and my answer prompted her to tell me I was “unpatriotic”. I was buying music, giving money to some strangers that are the very reason why French musicians struggle. I was part of the problem regarding the suffocation of anything native in the face of the American music industry. More, I was betraying my culture when I could be expanding it. I was serving the enemy.

I have been wondering why these people reacted as they did for the past 15 years. Not that it’s the first or only time I have been getting that kind of remarks but they usually come from people who call themselves “proud, real French”. The either country-side-living or poorly-educated or highly nationalistic person who, for various reasons, reject anything foreign on various degrees of violence and easily buy into the American invasion. All the while never going to a single French movie because they are “boring”…

I get that at work at the moment. For the first time, I am not in teaching languages but took a job at a supermarket because the next country I want to move to is very expensive so I need massive savings, and I am surrounded by people who don’t speak English. When I do, even and mostly to myself, most of them have this knee-jerk rejection of it. Fear of someone who knows more? Feeling of exclusion? Both I think.

However, those three people aforementioned belong to a type of population I know very well, due to my travelling and living abroad: the bi-nationals. The man is Franco-German, the former friend was Franco-Vietnamese and the other is French but both her parents are Argentinians who moved to France as teenagers.

Most bi-nationals I know embrace both their cultures, languages and the question of identity is one that resolved itself easily: I am a citizen of the world. I am a human being. Borders are irrelevant, languages are relevant in that they open doors and help you in life. If nationalities are two boxes on paper, they are endless opportunities in real life. A former colleague whose mother is Jamaican and father French, because born in Guadeloupe, was once asked the usual question: “What do you prefer most? Being French or Jamaican?” She replied that this type of questions was akin to asking: “Who’s your favourite, your dad or your mum?” This is irrelevant and ignorant.

A bi-national will appreciate and critique their culture equally but for very different reasons and the questions of identity, culture and belonging is a open pick & mix buffet. You take what you like in whichever side you wish. For instance, when talking about homosexuality, she said she was more French because France embraces same-sex marriage but when it comes to race issues, she was more Jamaican because, unlike in France, she was not “black” in Jamaica, just a normal person.

Nevertheless, not all bi-nationals are like that, as shown by the people who called me a prostitute who was unpatriotically forsaking my whole heritage for something I had no reason to embrace. They belong to the bi-nationals for whom the question of identity has been a black or white issue and they were faced with choosing sides for a variety of reasons so it took me to know them to try and understand their apparent rejection of anything but France and French, although they should be the expression of multiculturalism.

The husband, for instance, was born from a German father and a French mother. First, as a child whose father is the foreigner, he spoke little German. It’s something I noticed amongst all my friends, either parents or children in multicultural families: if the mother is the foreigner, the child will more likely be bilingual and open to both his heritages. Fathers tend to speak their native language less for reasons I still need to explore. So he grew up speaking just a bit of both languages and when his father left his mother, the conflict of love became one of cultures. In the rejection of his father, it’s also Germany and everything that comes with it he forsook. Hence the name-calling: for him, my tending to another culture is abhorrent, a betrayal to France who “gave birth to and nurture me”. He chose France and French because, in his mind, they are family and one cannot belong to two families. I was indeed just a whore, trying to please some stranger culture by overly speaking its language because I had concluded that the English family was more profitable.

The former friend has both Vietnamese parents, she spoke, ate, drank, sang, read, danced Vietnamese culture but this was the privacy of her home. Outside, casual racism based on her looking Asian, and therefore being “Chinese” – because, of course, all Asians are Chinese – led her to work extra hard to integrate to France and become she could never look “it”, she would forever act and sound it. She therefore ended up internalising extreme ideas as to what makes a good French person and a bad one. I was the bad one, she was the good one because I embraced English culture when I should have done what she has always been told to do and eventually did: solely embrace French culture and eventually leave the rest behind. I remember her saying she was fighting with her parents because she would not marry a man from Southeast Asia, and she refused to carry on with learning Vietnamese. She was the product of our idea of assimilation of immigrants centered on the concept of leaving your roots behind altogether in order to become someone else, someone new, someone fitting for the role, someone who would not think twice if the day of confrontation with your ancestry would come. You would defend France because you have become French through steps I was overlooking. Maybe because I had the privilege of being French by ancestry…

The second one was the same somehow, except she only took in the words, not the outrageous nationalism needed to compensate others’ racism based on her looks because her family is of Spanish descent. The parents spoke perfect French after 30 years in France. they had jobs, they owned a house, she was a high-achiever at school. If the name was Spanish, they were nothing but fully integrated into the French society. The perfect immigrants, some would say. “You would not know they are not French”

If the parents spoke Spanish to each other, they spoke French to their daughters. If she enjoyed her Argentinian heritage through music and dancing, she however had this idea of having to make a choice between two options. I think it comes again from the idea of opportunities in life. Being as French as possible had probably been carved into her head by her parents so to ensure she had the best chances but it also meant she couldn’t possibly understand that my love of English was not making me any less French than I am, I was just expanding my horizon as wide as her had always been on the international scale.

I have now become very wary of these types of bi-nationals who, for reasons usually not fully understood by them, are overly patriotic and judgmental when it comes to embracing more than one culture. French politics is a perfect example with people like Sarkozy (Hungary) and Manuel Valls (Spain) who were sometimes as damning of social, cultural diversity and foreigners as the far-right can be. For me, this is one of the far-right’s and racism’s greatest victory: to have made some immigrants and their children willingly reject their own culture, reject multiculturalism as fake and treason to the soil you live on, point out variety as source of a problem instead of a solution.

Advertisements

In Brief: César Polanski

There is a call to boycott the French equivalent of the Oscars, Les Césars, because the committee thought it would be a good idea to hand over the hosting to a man who pleaded guilty to drugging and raping a 13 year-old girl.

A call to which the former French Ministre de la Culture replied: “It’s something that happened 40 years ago. One cannot bring up this affair every time we talk about him because there was a problem back then. It is just an awards ceremony.”

If it’s “just a ceremony”, why do you care so much as to comment upon its boycott? The word “just” implies its lack of significance, it’s yet another tedious, self-congratulating event no one really cares about and women only watch for the dresses so what’s the fuss, hey?

Clearly, it’s not “just” a ceremony and you do take issue. Well, so do the people who think that time is not what brings closure to crimes. A properly served justice does. Which never happened in that case. And Polanski knows it, having moved from countries to countries for the past 40 years, according to how said countries are dealing with the on-going extradition demand from the US.

The fact that he will certainly be handing the big prize to a movie about a rape victim seeking revenge is worth a boycott, yes.

The Good Reads: Grace Dent on Dylan and the Nobel Prize

“You don’t get it. Dylan is God,” said my ex-boyfriend, and the boyfriend before him, and the one before that, and in fact all boyfriends ever since 1985. And I’ve tried to find Dylan godly, really tried, but to the unloving ear he sounds like a man with a bronchial infection arduously describing his favourite commute.

Click the quote for the full article.

Sadiq Khan: a person above all else.

A lot of questions have been asked to me since Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London and all have to do with his being a Muslim.

I live in France where most of our immigrants for the past 60 years have been coming from Muslim countries and yet, we still can’t seem to be able to get our heads around the fact that one of them has managed to reach such a position. “How brave of them to vote for…him. I mean…you know…”, we say as we still call “immigrants” the great-great-grand-children of these who left what was still colonies.

No! I don’t know and frankly, I am not interested in what you “mean”…

On the English side, people have been asking why the continentals are so obsessed with his religious beliefs. A bit hypocritical I have to say, considering the headlines of most of their tabloids but It is true that the headlines from Europe’s newspapers looked like the Tory campaign with the indissociable words “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim”.

We are obsessed the same way the world was when Paris elected her first gay mayor. It was everywhere because that’s what we do: we put people in boxes that comes with expectations and prejudice. These boxes were called “minorities” until the people living within them decided to call themselves “communities” in this schizophrenic idea that letting the differences define not only what they are but also who they are…well, that would allow them to somehow eventually make these differences irrelevant. Maybe…

However, what I see instead is the “majority” using this idea of community to further exclude them, bringing the minorities to work even further for a place in the system they are no longer a part of as if they had some emancipated. Some going as far as excluding themselves from the rest of the society altogether and turning against it with inconceivable violence.

But I digress.

The fact is that: when one manages to go beyond the hindrance the “minority” tag erects in our Western society, when someone makes it against the odds of our narrow-mindness, we are surprised and that’s all we can talk about. And not really in a good way so far.

First, there is our sickening self-congratulation. Bétrand Delanoë, Barack Obama, Sadiq Khan: all were used by their respective countries as proof that these very countries were now beacon of modernity, acceptance and forwardness in a world of neighbours they could legitimately look down on. We do the same for every woman reaching a position of responsibility; she is here to prove we are not that sexist. The same way Obama was used to prove to the world that the US are not racist. Yeah…

In this, these people are still defined by their status of minority that was bravely disregarded by the good majority of the West who has been giving them a chance to prove they can make it. That’s why “Sadiq Khan” and “Muslim” were inseparable in most news outlets. He’s a poster for something new about us: we are not the bastards we thought we were.

Yes, we are! Because he was elected in London, a city so diverse that the concept of majority doesn’t apply. Because his opponent’s campaign used his personal religious belief to attack him and it worked. Not in London as a whole but in the rest of the UK and Europe, yes! And very well with that. I mean, his being a Muslim is all we knew of him! Hence and because such a thing would never happen anywhere else than in a city like London or Berlin. Not even Paris.

Secondly, we talk and talk and talk but we forget that Sadiq Khan’s biggest achievement is being overlooked: he has managed to be himself, an individual person beyond the realm of communitarianism.

Being gay, I know what the “community” does to you. You will find support when isolated and endangered in the face of intolerance and rejection but you are also sucked in and you lose your individuality. I have never liked what we call “the gay community” as such because there’s a sense of autarky that comes with belonging. As the community looks to be stronger on its own, you lose yourself in the name of something bigger that needs to be as homogeneous as possible because this is where it finds its strength.

The problem with the community steaming from the status of minority is that we often look for a common enemy to soften our inner differences. There is the need to level out, to standardise, to all be the same so we can present a united front, in mind and appearance. People are no longer individuals, they are members who abide by the same rules for a common purpose: to gain recognition.

I am not damning communities as a whole but I do distrust it as much as I distrust establishment in the way that both are looking to deny my identity: one through what it means to be gay and the other through the need to impose nationalism.

I see myself in Sadiq Khan, like I did in Bétrand Delanoë before, because they too refused these terms. They did not run as a member of their communities for the purpose of bringing their peers to national acceptance, They ran as themselves. Plain and simple.

The Tories tried to reduce to Khan to his religion – like UMP tried to abuse Delanoë’s homosexuality – and it failed. Not because the whole of the Western world has suddenly decided to be tolerant of anything, rather because Khan has proven that he was not different because he belonged to a community but because he is an individual: he had a history to tell in which Islam belongs but we actually don’t know much about it, except that he has always fought against the ones who prey on people’s uncertainties and doubts about belonging. He had an actual programme with clear policies that went beyond his own interests and the ones of his religious peers, he had ideas and he defended them.

In being his own creation, Khan has never been divisive but always uniting. He talked to everyone and did not target certain people for gain – expect his being a Londoner, obviously. He has managed to make people forget that he is a Muslim and see the individual beyond all labels. I am even sure some people who voted for him did not know he was Labour until they took the ballot. And that is the victory we should celebrate.

This London’s Mayor race was the victory of the individual above all categorisation, whatever they might be: gender, sex, religion, ancestry, skin complexion. It is the victory of one man as his own who managed to appeal to people as their own.

What’s to be French?

Officially France recognises both birth right and jus soli. It means that one will automatically have the French nationality provided that one of his parents is acknowledged as French by l’Etat Civil (through blood lineage, then) but also anyone born on French soil is given the French nationality.

It is being discussed at the moment because the instauration of both rights in the constitution is dating back after WWII and it has been applied to every child of immigrants who came to France The problem we are having is that, for the first time since WII, we are not only dealing with immigrants but with refugees.

The very important difference between an immigrant and a refugee is that the first has made the decision to move countries in order to find better opportunities, better life or just to find something new, like I did when moving to England.

Immigrants have the will to stay for a long time, to settle, to integrate. They are here to stay, their decision is, for the majority, a life-time decision. They find jobs, pay taxes and it is fair to give the French nationality to their children born in France, who after all, speak French, read, watch and listen to French, go to French schools, abide by French laws. To give people who are born and raised in France within French values a sense of belonging from the very beginning.

A refugee, however, is different. They have no intention to stay. I am saying they don’t contribute, are unwilling to integrate or that they will never (want to) stay but most of them are living with hope that what the plague that forced them to abandon their home will end soon and they will be able to go back home and rebuild their lives. That’s just for the ones who are stationing in France. We also have hundreds of thousands, millions maybe, transiting through the country to reach some family and friends that will help and shelter them in another country, like the UK.

What do we do when one if these refugee women gives birth in France then? Should jus soli apply? Why? Why not? My real question is: Do the parents really care that their child is French? Do they want their children to be French? Will the child ever want to be French? Will there be consequences when they go back to a country that might not acknowledge him/her as one of their own? Will they be forced to give it up to be accepted when they never asked for it?

And what does that mean for the child to be French?

Having the French nationality does not open to automatic economic rights – unlike what Marine Le Pen has been saying. Believe me, I know! Ten years in England meant ten years without a cent given to the French state in taxes so when I came back, no amount of passport, ID card or birth certificate allowed me to receive any money. I want a place to live? A chance to be reimbursed my medical expenses?  Protection if I lose my job? Well, I had to get a job to begin with. My French nationality never gave me any economic rights, no. You earn them.

However, being French automatically gives you certain can-do’s (along with the have-to’s), such as the right to express yourself, i.e: vote and that’s an issue. Although the numbers of refugee babies automatically born French are a far cry from dramatic, there are babies out there who are French because they were born in France and maybe they will never know or actually never care. Some will have never spoken a word or French, lived in France or even cared for France. What do we do about them? Do we give them the right to vote anyway? If anything happens to them later on in life in another country, is France’s responsibility to protect them?

That’s a question I don’t know how to answer. At the moment, the state has inadvertently responded to it by allowing the “striping of nationality” in the constitution under certain circumstances dividing even more the country between those who are sure to remain French and those walking on the plank. Maybe a review of the situation when the child is 18 could be good, like in Germany. I don’t know…

The other major issue with being French is the problem between what the law says and what the people are ready to accept. As usual with a country, the capital is setting the tone and I will mention my cousin to show something about France and its conception of identity.

My cousin was born in Paris more than 30 years ago. His parents moved there when they were late teenagers, he has lived his whole life in Paris, has no intention to move, has always been working in Paris itself, have been paying taxes to the city of Paris yet he’s not “un Parisien”.

Why? Because his father was not born in Paris but in Boulogne. His mother was born in Paris but her parents weren’t. To have the right to call yourself a “true” Parisien and to be acknowledged as such by the “true” people of Paris, you have to be the fourth generation in a row to be born and to have lived in Paris.

So despite his mother and himself being born in Paris, he is not un Parisien. All because his father is form Boulogne and grew up in Versailles, his grand-mother is from Chamberry and grew up in Saint-Cloud, his grand-father is from Tours and grew up in Saint-Cloud as well. As for the rest of the family, we come from Tourraine, Périgord, Jura, Lyon and Savoy.

Well, expend that to the whole of France and you know why people who were born in France, whose parents were born in France are not considered as French but called “Imigrants of Third Generation”, all because their grand-parents are from Algeria. Even when the State officially acknowledges them as French, and Algeria was part of France when their grand-parents were born – but at the time, no jus soli, just birth right so they were still “Arabs”.

That’s the core of the identity problem in France. The State acknowledges you as French but as far as the French are concerned, they will check on your ancestors to find out if your claim to Frenchness withholds the 100 years landmark or 4 generations born and to have lived in France.

This idea of time based on a mix of blood and land doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is actually one of the most archaic way to decide whether someone deserves to be something or not. It started with the Greeks. To have the right to become a citizen in Athens, to have the right to express yourself and vote, you had to prove that your father and grand-father were born and lived in Athens. Then later, as the system got older, you could only be a citizen if your father and grand-father were themselves citizens. Or be an exceptional character. But nothing new is protecting one’s right to be privileged.

In the US, one likes to list their Italian quarter of blood mixed with eighth of Irish blood, sixteenth of Swedish, all in half Cheerokee because they are no real definition of what it is to be American. The nationality doesn’t even match the name of the country for the US know they are a country of immigration.

In France, schizophrenia is the norm. “The Republic is one and indivisible” so everyone is French by either birth right or jus soli or both. By this definition, being French should be fairly open from the Flemish of the Lille to the Basque of the Bayonne yet in real life everyone still has to prove their blood has been purified by 100 of living on the French soil before they can be allowed to call themselves French by the “true French” – whoever we are. Celtic Gaulois by soil? Germanic Franks by blood? Romans by language? Austrians by croissants?

A good integration of immigrants is not just about them making an effort, but also about a rethink of what it takes and means to be French. It means teaching the French and the immigrants that being French has nothing to do with time and blood, rather will, tolerance, open-mindness and contribution from both parts.

Life hack: How to not drink and not be a “killjoy”

The hack: Ask for a glass of alcohol and don’t drink it.

Sounds too good to be true, I know. Hear me out.

This is one the biggest problem when one does not drink alcohol like I do:

“Man, another killjoy who doesn’t want to take part! What’s all the fuss about again?! Why can’t you just drink what we all drink?
-I was asked and I just say ‘water’…
-Well, here is a beer and shut up, you buzz-kill!”

I do drink but only on very special occasions like a glass of champagne for Christmas but having an obsessive personality, I know that if I start drinking for pleasure, I will never be able to stop. I have enough problems as it is with binge eating.

So when asked what I want, I do say water and the hosts, probably, feeling they are failing at…hosting go ballistic.

“Really? Not some wine? Come one, just a glass? No? What about a beer? Even less?! Why? What do you mean? You don’t like beer?…Really?…I don’t think it’s vulgar to drink beer, you know. Look, my friend’s a very nice person. She is in money too and she likes a beer. That doesn’t make her vulgar, does it? What, you sure?! Just water? I only have tab water, you know. It’s fine…really? You really sure? Okay, then…It’s your life after all!”

Sounds familiar to non-drinkers?

And that was just the answer to “Do you want anything to drink?” two minutes after you arrived…There is then a whole evening or whatever when people are constantly asking you if you are sure you don’t want a sip. “Just a sip, come on”.

Countless are the questions as to why you don’t drink, to which you don’t really answer because you know they are not genuine questions but really doors the others are waiting to blow up, cracks they are trying to find in the wall to “prove you wrong” on whatever reasons you have to not drink.

I want to point out clearly that to this moment, you have not done anything wrong. You have not lost your cool and told anyone to “Back off, it’s just some fucking water! Deal with it!”

You haven’t brought up the only-water-drinking topic yourself and you avoid talking about it altogether, frankly. You have just asked for a glass of water which is the least costly thing provided that evening. Mostly you have never pointed out to all the others downing bottles after bottles that not only are you not making any comments on the copious amount of poison they are drinking and how annoying they are getting because of it, but you also have not tried to convince them to live the way you do. You are not here to preach the healthy-living and you never will. You just drink water.

Yet, the worst part is to come: the toast. You raise your glass and everyone is looking at the content of it like it’s more important than the person who is toasted or their speech. No, what matters is that you faked it. A real toast is with alcohol. Toasting with water is like showing up to a party with a Weight Watchers casserole – That, I do disapprove of! Get a proper cake! I don’t drink but I do eat.

Then you are branded various names from “the non-drinker” to “the killjoy” because God knows only alcohol makes anything interesting.

In the face of it, you have three types of people:

-The ones who understand and don’t mind, they always have a bottle of water ready for you. They are respectful and nice, and don’t make a fuss about it. They don’t draw attention to it, just serve you and say with a smile “So what, you don’t drink…More for us.” Yes, thank you! But that’s the very minority and they don’t have a special name for you, just your actual name.

-The ones who like to label you the ‘non-drinker’ and think it’s funny to ask every-freaking-time what you are drinking. They are hoping they will, one day, get you to crack and will be the first to hear you ask for some alcohol. They are the peer-pressure ones. The more they will ask, the more chances you will eventually give up and give in. This is the reasoning behind it and the nickname that clearly dissociates you from the rest of the group but “in a nice way.”

-Finally, the Type-III people to fear like diabetes, are the beer-pressures ones. The bullies, the idiots, the ones who…nevermind. In a nutshell, they think you don’t belong because you don’t drink and there is nothing “funny” in their way. “Nope, can’t sit there unless you have a drink. A real one…” I always leave then but I am a horse’s arse. Unfortunately, not everyone has my stubbornness and my absolute disregard for what such people think of me.

So my mother, who never drinks and tends to dislike, as I do, fruit juices from the shops because they are indeed very sugary, has comes up with a hack for non-drinkers to be left alone: ask for a drink but just don’t drink it, she explains. People don’t really pay attention unless a glass is empty or not filled with what they expect at a certain time, in that case: alcohol. Just fill up a glass with alcohol, keep it close and people will leave you alone.

God, the length we have to reach to be left in peace with just some water! Not just that but I was very dubious of the reasoning. It sounded good on paper but the reality is always quite different. Until a couple of days ago when I went to a friend’s birthday. She is the second type of people aforementioned and despite having actually lived with her for a couple of months, she still asks me every time if I want a drink of alcohol. She always laughs when asking. I fake laugh. Maybe I am not that much of a horse’s arse…

So the last time, I said yes and helped myself of a double whiskey. She jumped on her camera and filmed me “to show everyone that she succeeded.” Deary me, little did she know that the hack was to not drink it and I didn’t. It stayed in front of me, untouched for the whole evening and my mother was right, once I had that glass poured and set when I sat, all was well. I toasted “properly” and everytime people were looking, I had a glass of whiskey ready to be drunk. Nothing to report.

It truly works, it’s amazing! People are genuinely leaving you in peace and all you have to do is use that glass full of alcohol everytime needed without drinking a drop of it.

Now, nothing is full-proof of course, and you can still encounter some situations where the Type-III persons, the beer-pressures, are going to be a pain in the arse:

1. “But you have not drunk any of it”. Assure them that you did. Which is why it is essential to not ask for a glass of wine or a beer in the first place but rather a very strong alcohol like a double whiskey, double vodka or any liqueur would do as long as you can easily justify the “slower-drinking” of it. If they force you to prove you are drinking it, then thou shall finally snap and tell them off as you see fit.

2. The thirst. You are not drinking the glass so you will indeed get thirsty and eventually ask for some water anyway. There will be reactions to your wanting water when you have not yet finished your drink. Fear no more and just point out that you don’t really fare well with alcohol so the water is to prevent the hang-over the next day. It is proven that eating and drinking water while consuming alcohol are helping the decrease the risk of hang-over as the body can draw fluids and function thanks to various sources. Not just poison from fermented sugar.

As I said, it seems far-fetched to just be left in peace when wanting to only water but it does make your life much easier and more pleasant during social events.

The lump of fat

I met a person. A type of person that I have seen before, watched before, heard of before but never met, or at least never had a full conversation with. An Irish colleague to whom I was introduced before the lemon cupcakes I made that day were. She first started by telling me that it was not the way her mother was doing it, then telling me that, if I were a proper Englishman, I would have added some decorations. I said that as a Frenchman, unlike the Brits, I prefer minimalism and to let the taste speak for the cakes.

Little did I know that, when it comes to looks, it is everything to her.

I was finding her frankly overbearing and went back to my work, she anyway carried on by telling me that she doesn’t eat cakes anymore anyway. So what was all that criticism all about then? She told me that she had “found the way”. She had “realised it” and, putting her hand on my shoulder, that now she helps people lose weight.

I always have good come-backs and I am never speechless but I just looked at her with a blank eye. She said that she can help me, that like me, who is a true baker in the heart (Okay then…), she has another calling and it’s to help people to clear their deep psychological blockage. She was on a mission to make me thin although we had barely met, I never asked anything, I did not complain and she knew nothing but my first name.

That was the first time I met someone like that: the thin proselyte who, like a born-again Christian, has made a mission to convert the fat people to their search for ultimate yet healthy twigginess.

And the whole experience was truly terrible to be honest. I came out of it extremely angry, feeling like shit, feeling like I was beneath her, I was just weak and pathetic because what these people really are is absolute bullying wolves in sheep clothing. At first, they are very nice, want to be helpful, seem understanding and sympathetic when in fact, they are just terribly insulting and their eagerness to shove your own face into the fat-swelling rawness inside of you is disrespect beyond the pale.

My anger came from me being put in a position of inferiority by this “holy” person but also my inability to really fight back. First, I did not think for a second that after everything I have achieved in my life, I would still have to justify myself for looking fat, which I found demeaning at the best of time. But it is also because we cannot attack these preaching bullies without becoming the executioner in the eyes of others. What outside people see is a very friendly, softly-spoken person who is selflessly sparing a couple of very sensible advice for your own good but the intrusion into your private space makes you want to punch them out of it or just tell them to “fuck off!” or even just be cold. But you think: “Am I proving you right by retaliating?”

I was stuck between her friendly claws wrapping closer around me and being unprofessional by bluntly telling her off. And also, she hadn’t mentioned me as such at this point so one could have easily blamed me for being touchy about being fat in the first place. “She was just making conversation; I was the one who made it about me.”

I did not know what to do and let myself being controlled into deeper self-loathing.

“I remove deep blockage” is what she said then. I felt more and more vulnerable and on the defensive side. My brain was screaming “Who are you to presume and question my mental health just by looking at me? How can you stand there and basically tell me that my physical appearance is saying all that needs to be known about my deep self?”

The worst with these people is their phoney empathy. She tried to show that she does understand by attempting to relate to me. The more she was blabbing about her ability to help the fat, the greater my need to dismiss her became so I bluntly said I had been overweight for the past 20 years and frankly nothing would change overnight. That’s when she pulled the relating trick where you show the other you identify with them. You are not yet another thin person who lectures, you suffered as well so she replied:

“Me too. I used to be obese then I found it and went from 68 kilos to 62 in two months!”

There was a silence.

Whatever “it” might be, that attempt to relate to my obesity was once again one of the most insulting thing I have ever been told. If 68 kilos from 1m60 is obese, what am I with my 120 kilos for 1m76?

I am obviously a monster that needs saving asap and that’s why she was here, right now.

In my silence, she started to throw words and phrases like “the teachings of Chinese medicine”, “the rules of Indian philosophy”, “the meaning of Asian religions”. It became more and more vague and the word “oriental” popped out more and more until it was virtually attached to every single of her abstractionisms. She is clearly one of these Westerners who have never lived anywhere near Asia and reduce it to what some pseudo gurus have let slip through our borders and books.

I found myself having to justify that I was indeed not just spending my life on my couch eating burgers. I felt like a child having to prove his parents he was not a total failure. I still cannot believe I ended up telling her I was going to the gym five times a week, was making an effort to only eat cereals in the morning rather that cakes, and that from now on, every morning, I was taking out seven to ten fruits and veg as well as 3 litres of water and a litre of whole milk that needed to be eaten and drunk by the time I go to bed. I suddenly watched myself trying to prove someone that my life was indeed a shameful mess of fat but I was trying to clear it up.

I concluded by saying that I was doing yoga and pilates to which she patronisingly replied that it was good for my condition. My “condition”, that was it. I am sick. In her mind, as long as I need to wear XL clothes, I will never be anything other than a lump of fat. I am just like a pack of butter and frankly I felt like one and became almost apologetic for it.

These thin, know-it-all-about-healthy-living proselytes want to help? They trigger nothing but greater self-loathing and a feeling of failure.

I became so fed up with her self-righteousness and her Christian-like attempt to force her newly-found, perfect way of life through every crack of my life and soul that I eventually stopped working, faced and told her that being fat has never stopped me from making it to where I was today, from leaving France with just a suitcase to live and work for 7 years in a country where I had no friends and no family, to making it as a teacher to one of the oldest and best school in England with nothing.

My being fat is irrelevant. She was not convinced.

Of course, she was not. Her self-loathing when she was “obese” will never allow her to see me as a person. For her, nothing I have and would ever say, nothing I have and would ever think, nothing I have and would ever do, nothing I have and would ever achieve will be good enough to gain her full respect because I do not look the part. I am not thin, therefore not happy nor fulfilled.

Had I been thin, we would have never had this conversation and I would not have had to list my life achievements and emphasise that being fat does not make suicidal and has not stopped me from having a life like everybody else.

The fact is, the self-righteousness she caged herself in has disabled her ability to have actual empathy for people she had made a mission to save. When she did put on weight at some point in her life, she had already digested and interiorised some prejudice about people who put on weight: that we are weak, with no self-control, that when our eating leaves my marks on our bodies despite the XL clothes, it means that we have deep psychological problems that remain unresolved.

Who hasn’t? You needn’t be fat to have problems! There is a brilliant Tumblr that display mugshots of criminals and if you just judge by their looks, they should have healthy minds. I mean some of them are handsome, thin, athletic and yet they robbed, battered, raped and killed. Being fat doesn’t say anything about you or your ability but she cannot see that because when the kilos piled up, she got scared, started to doubt herself and had found “oriental” solutions she is now preaching to whomever looks fatter than they should. Which, by the way, goes against actual Asian philosophies.

Today, she is just projecting on every fat person her personal experience. She has never been able to accept herself as someone with a bit more flesh. She hated herself then and she never managed to respect that person. Now she cannot possibly, truly respect us too and unfortunately, her views are becoming the mainstream in every aspect of our society. We did have Jamelia saying that fat people should be ashamed of being fat. Nice one, love! That’s going to help us move on with our lives…

Like all other thin, smug, Nazi-style or Evangelical-style healthy living proselytes, she doesn’t understand that force-feeding me with her phoney psychological help is not going to make me lose weight. On the contrary, her and her fat-shaming ilk are one of the biggest part of the problem and unlike them, I will never consider being thin a life achievement therefore a life goal.

And frankly, I am getting tired of my being fat being constantly shoved in my face and having to apologise for it, justify and prove myself on that sole basis day in, day out.

When I went back to my lesson planning and we parted, she passed in front of the cakes I spent hours making and, to add insult to injury, said proudly:
“Look, I am resisting. I have not eaten any of your cakes.”

I couldn’t take it anymore and with all the wisdom of a school playground, I replied:
“And I have not cared for anything you have been telling me.”