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“How not to be completely French”: Audrey Diwan on bad habits and questionable traditions

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Audrey Diwan

In her final guest column, Audrey Diwan, editor-at-large of Stylist France, reveals the secret to becoming a little more French (or not, in this case).

More: Forget beef bourguignon: here are the best French recipes to try this autumn

Our last meeting is here. It’s nearly time for me to leave you, my reader friends, and I must confess that it’s not without heartache, as I’ve grown quite fond of our weekly meetings. Together, we’ve undertaken a pretty good examination of the French – our charms, habits and manners as well as the clichés.

But, I don’t want to come across as completely blind to France’s flaws. There is a whole range of questionable habits and annoying traditions that are best left in France. And I can’t say farewell forever without telling you the whole truth.

Let’s start with cuisine, seeing as France often declares itself as the home of gastronomy. There is a tendency here to trot out classic French dishes – there’s an endless number of restaurants and websites that sing the praises of beef bourguignon. My first piece of advice to you is this: NEVER MAKE BEEF BOURGUIGNON. The recipe should be outlawed: lots of meat, lots of wine, a fair amount of butter and hardly any vegetables. This dish, for me, tastes like Sunday lunch with the family – dull without knowing why. No-one really wants to eat it, but we eat it anyway. And we always leave the table with a splash of sauce on our shirt as an unpleasant and stubborn reminder.

Another country

Bad driving is another speciality; our entire education disappears the moment the car door closes. As soon as I put my foot on the accelerator, I start swearing. When you drive in Paris, you’re taking your life in your own hands. Everyone undertakes each other, screaming, “Where the f*** did you learn to drive?” In general, this same driver is holding the wheel with one hand and smoking with the other. I’ve had to give up my car in order to retain my sense of dignity.

On the subject of politics, across the Channel you have the royal family, whereas we haven’t had one since 1793. Nevertheless, another family has installed itself in the media landscape and has been squatting there for generations: the Le Pen family. From father to daughter to niece, they seem to be everywhere, encouraging the entire country to lunge towards the far-right. Over the next year, with the forthcoming presidential election, you will see their troubling blonde heads popping up all over the news. I’m not a royalist at heart, but I’d prefer your royal family a thousand times over the Le Pens. God save the Queen…

And, finally, there is our worst habit of all: self-loathing. Self-bashing is a national sport. French people never go a day without saying something bad about the French (see beef bourguignon, driving and worrying political parties). Despite being viewed by the world as a proud nation, we are actually very hard on ourselves. And there, is the nub: it’s a good thing to emulate the French, just not completely…

Photography: Chris Floyd, iStock

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