Living in France, there are a few things I really miss. Market differences mean that certain food is not available in supermarkets or restaurants here : salt and vinegar crisps, baked beans, HP sauce, McVities digestives and my favourite Indian spices (although if you know a good convenience store managed by an Indian you can find these) to name a few. The lack of favourite Indian spices extends to Indian restaurants: there are restaurants especially around Paris, but their menus are a far cry from an average English town Indian restaurant. Even Chinese restaurants, available in abundance here, don’t have the same range of meals. It would seem that here a lot of Asian restaurants are owned by the old French colony nationals : Vietnamese in particular. So when I go back to England a trip to my local Chinese and Indian is always a pleasure. I think that this shows that Asian food has evolved within England for English tastebuds, because I’m convinced that in India and China the food is totally different too.
Then there’s sport : Cricket is almost unknown, and I am yet to meet a Frenchman who knows even the basics of the game. “You can play a game which lasts five days?” is a familiar response to my initial attempts at explaining this very British sport. Snooker fares a little better, mainly due to the popularity of pool. I even got to see some of the Embassy world snooker championship on French Eurosport so it’s tentatively forming a niche here. Finally, Darts. A few cafÃƒÂ©s have an electronic dartboard with automatic scoring and those crappy plastic darts, but it’s not something that you’d see on TV. It’s usually an excuse for drunken lobbing of pointy things at a board which will flash if you’re lucky enough to score a few points. If I take the oche, I get strange looks for my stance and aiming technique. Sadly I don’t do very well, can’t throw those plastic darts. The worst of all this is that I am having difficulty following England in their current ashes series. I have to settle to listening to “Five Live” when I’m near an Internet connection.
If you’re looking to define what is quinetessentially British, you could do a lot worse than starting with those things that other nations do not have available in commerce due to a lack of demand. Don’t moan about the lack of pet tastes though – what is most interesting when travelling is the challenge to find new things that open your mind and your tastebuds. How boring it would be if everything was the same.