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Friday, 7 January 2011

When I was 16 ... and a mystery

I went to France to live en famille and learn the language.

My timing was a bit off.

I arrived on the day of a general strike. Not good, as we - my French exchange partner Gerard Thaler and I - had to travel to Paris then across France to the Jura, and this was the most complete, all-embracing strike I believe they have had in my lifetime.

On my way back to England, I recall feeling ashamed at the self satisfied, conceited English people I saw (this was only 6 years after a war we had won). To cloak my identity I spoke French all the way to London, hoping I wouldn't be associated with them.

I was reminded of this when watching the cricket in Australia.

Few things are more nauseating than England fans when we win. Pretty ridiculous when it happens so rarely.

Just to put things in context: when you look at what really matters a recent survey reveals we are:

24th in quality and quantity of infrastructure; which incorporates 8th for telecoms, 18th for electricity, 20th for railways, 24th for roads, 27th for aviation.

On the overall measure Singapore, Germany, France (yes, France) and Finland are the first four on average.

One triumph we enjoyed that was omitted was No 2 for obesity, having overtaken the Germans, who really must try harder.

I don’t know how well we're doing on illiteracy, gullibility, teenage pregnancy, fatuous delusions about football and smugness.

Hate to think.

But here is the mystery. If the place is so dreadful, how come there are more foreigners than natives living in my block off the King's Road? How come so many come here - and stay?

And how come my friends (not English, by the way - Italian and Russian) find it so horrid living in Paris?

There are clearly some attractive facets of our national psyche that my teenage self never spotted.

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