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Culture clash? My worries over long-awaited France to UK trip

Gillian Harvey prepares for her first return visit to the UK in four years and wonders if she is right to be apprehensive

Gillian Harvey

‘Four years of negative news coverage has taken its toll and I am starting to wonder if I will recognise the homeland I am travelling back to’ Pic: Gillian Harvey / Pavlo Lys / Claudio Divizia

Despite being happily ensconced in France since 2009, I have always looked forward to my biannual trips to Blighty.

After all, choosing another culture in which to live and raise my kids does not mean I have rejected everything about the country in which I was spawned. 

I still miss Marmite. And my parents.

Even so, my family and I did not make a single trip to the motherland in 2019; instead, we decided to save our pennies for a longer stay in 2020. 

My debut novel was due to be published that May and we wanted to make the most of the celebrations. 

As things turned out, it was not the best idea.

Scared to visit to UK

Ever since that time, the combination of cancelled plans, an ongoing pandemic, extortionate testing requirements and an uncertain travel situation has led to the longest absence of my life.

The last time I actually ventured to British shores was 2018, and my only exposure to the UK since then has been via the TV news, articles I have read online, and general internet reportage.

‘Will I recognise my homeland?’

Reader, I have booked a trip to the UK in August, but I am scared.

We all know that news can be exaggerated, that ‘highlights’ of the happenings of an entire country are far from being the whole story. 

When I lived in Bedfordshire in the noughties, I often saw scenes on the news that bore no relation to the reality of my day-to-day life out in the sticks.

But four years of negative news coverage has taken its toll and I am starting to wonder if I will recognise the homeland I am travelling back to.

Bleak news coverage

For starters, is it true that Britain is now in the midst of constant culture wars? 

Will we be forced to take sides in heated arguments about vaccines, or the pros and cons of mask-wearing; or be quizzed on whether or not a prime minister should be allowed to lie? 

Are people more hostile to one another in reality or is that just the impression I get watching the headlines? 

Cost of living crisis

And the cost of living! While prices have risen in France too, cross-Channel news reports paint a bleak picture.

Renting a holiday cottage is expensive enough – but if power is really as pricey as they say, we might have to exist on cold showers and shiver if the weather turns inclement. 

Ought we to bring our thermals despite the fact it will be peak summer?

And will we have to heed the advice of British politicians and seek out supermarket value ranges (apparently they are cheaper – who knew?).

Chaos at ports

Worse, if we are to believe the stories, after disembarking at Folkestone we might face a perilous journey to our final destination. 

Our route will be barricaded by gridlocked lorries, hijacked by overzealous protestors sticking themselves to the tarmac or sitting in front of our wheels. 

Not to mention the fact UK roads will be so peppered with potholes our tyres will tear to shreds after five minutes.

Prepare for the worst?

Listening to radio debates and reading comments on news articles also has me wondering whether we should fork out on a hire car to avoid navigating British roads with tell-tale French plates. 

Will our vehicle attract the wrong kind of attention from hard-line Brexiteers? 

Will we be glared at by Remainers who resent the fact we are still able to reside in Europe? 

If we dare venture into a town or city, will we be taking our lives in our hands? 

Are drunken, drug-fuelled people staggering in the streets? 

Or knife-wielding gangs of wild youths roaming like pack animals ready to attack innocent bystanders? 

Will we be crossing roads to avoid undesirables hanging about outside the park? 

Trip to UK is now or never

Hopefully, we will find that people are a little less polarised than four years of headlines would have us believe. 

We all know that the scenes of mayhem and disaster played out on our screens do not represent the whole of the country.

But after four years away, it is easy to forget that day-to-day life in Britain probably toddles on in more or less the same way as it always has.

Then again, if I need reminding that the news can present a skewed version of the realities of living in this country or that, I just have to remember the frantic phone calls I have fielded from relatives whenever the news in France has been bleak.

“No, Mum, that happened in Paris. We live 400km away. Yes, almost the same distance as you are.”

Still, I am viewing my trip with a little trepidation. 

And I cannot help but wonder: if I had waited any longer, would I have had the courage to venture back at all?

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