Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Sting! Sting! Sting!

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I can live in France, right? I mean, it can't be that different; France is my neighbour; there is nothing but a little channel of water that separates us. Some people even swim across it.

I heard that in order to swim the English Channel, you have to cover yourself, top to toe, in one thick layer of slippery gel, this is to stop the jellyfish from stinging you. I can imagine line after line of these jellyfish making a great jelly-wall around France to stop the swimmers getting through.

I can live in a country protected by jellyfish, right? If the swimmers can make it to France in their slippery swim-suit then so can I in my, er, aeroplane. Well, not my aeroplane...

As it turns out, living in a different country, for me, is like living in a sea full of jellyfish. Invisible ones. Every time I go for a little swim, sting! One gets me. Every time I do something that seems natural to me, it becomes quickly obvious that it is not such a normal thing to do in France. It's a stinging realisation.

On my first week here I bought a yummy French croissant and was popping bits of it into my mouth as soon as I left the boulangerie.

“Stop eating fatty!” I heard. Sting! Where did that come from?

Another day, I was walking back from the supermarket when it started to rain. Admittedly, it was very, very light rain, but to protect my make-up I put up my umbrella.

“Surely it's not raining enough for an umbrella?” I heard. Sting!

Why, why, why, is that any of your business Mr So-and-so? You don't have make-up to worry about. Or hair.

And then there is my favourite... “I knew you were English because...”

“I knew you were English because you have nail varnish on...”

“I knew straight away that you were English because of your green socks...”

“I just knew you were English because you're drinking tea...”

Sting, sting, sting... I felt like I was being studied. And then:

“Look, you've gone all red! That's so English!” Sting again. Surely it wasn't like that for everybody? I mean, can sock colour really indicate your nationality?

Some of the other English girls, my colleagues, are like big slippery fish who are really good swimmers and especially good at avoiding jellyfish. And then there are those that just swim right into them but don't feel the sting, just a bit of a tickle, and so they laugh. They're just big, slippery, sock-wearing, tea-drinking, croissant-in-the-street eating, umbrella-bearing, manicured fish.

I thought they were just so lucky to be like that.

Then one day my friend called me: “It's nice when people say what they think,” she said. “And when you meet someone from a different culture, obviously you think about it and so you talk about it.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “But the umbrella man didn't know I was from a different country. And 'Stop eating fatty'? Was that really a nice way to say what he was thinking?”

“That could happen anywhere!” she said. “The only reason you notice these things is because you are in a different country.”

Good point. All this time I had been looking for jellyfish stings. Ouch! That's not such a clever thing to do.

So, thanks to my friend I came to the conclusion that all of these jellyfish only existed in my head. After all, that is exactly why I'm here, right? To discover another culture; and at the same time this culture wants to learn about mine. And why not?

I needed a change of attitude.

Yes, it's true that I haven't seen many brightly coloured finger-nails here, French girls have a very natural look. And their world-celebrated sense of style obviously rejects green socks. And everybody knows that we like our tea in England, whereas the French drink little black coffees.

“I drink coffee too you know,” I said the next time the subject came up in a café, with a French girl.

“Well of course you do!” was the reply. “ And I often drink tea.”

“Oh... Really?”

“Yes. But not with milk and sugar, like you.”

And so I told her all about the 'things that make me English.'

“Well I usually paint my toenails,” she said. Interesting... I hardly ever paint my toenails. My toes are just too far away. But my mum does. My sister does. Generally, women do.

“Of course you are going to wear different clothes and of course people are going to notice. We can't all dress the same way in every country,” she said, glancing at my feet. “Maybe, next season, no French girl will leave her house without her green socks.”

There, you see? They are only very tiny details, but finding these little similarities and differences and talking about them is one of the great pleasures of an adventure abroad. And ultimately I've realised that I'm not so different.

“I'm so pleased to talk to you,” I said, grinning.

“I know,” she said. “You've gone all red. It's because you're English.”


Do people know where you're from when you're in a different country? How? What stereotypes do foreigners have about your country? Are any of them true?


dzeni's picture
dzeni 9 March, 2014 - 11:21

I am sure that they don`t know. I am from Montenegro and all foreigners think Montenegrins are lazy. It isn`t true. Not all people in a country the same.

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SARAH K's picture
SARAH K 6 July, 2013 - 19:21

In the place I live do not have any foreign.
Albania is known as a historical place, with courage citizens. We are well known for our cusine, traditions (different from all other countries) and for the respect for each other.
BUT, also Albanians are very predugatives people. They do not wait to know you well, but they start talking for you and your life immediately. Albania is also known in world as a place where the inside conflicts between the goverment and the other poles of politics never end.

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Natalija's picture
Natalija 27 March, 2013 - 13:32

Serbians are known for being very hospitable and good to talk to. We know to have fun, but Serbia is a Balcan country, so we have some traditional values, that are uncommon to foreigners. The family is on the first place, a father has the biggest role in the house and he's the head of the house. Of course, it's the same in other countries, but we live in patriarchy and some foreigners can't understand it. But above all that, we are good people and we are outgoing and we like meeting new people, from any country. Just like Demy said, it's not important where do you come from, but who you are.

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megisiana's picture
megisiana 12 February, 2013 - 17:18

i like very much this article ..........................
and yeas people can change by many think ........:
about their tradition ,,,,ect .........

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Ilda G's picture
Ilda G 26 January, 2013 - 08:13

There are many ways to know a foreign person.
To begin with the clothes they wear,their behaviour ect..
P.S.... I like this article

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Demy's picture
Demy 22 January, 2013 - 08:35

The foreingers have a lot of stereotypes about Ukraine and Russia. But sometimes it is not good stereotypes))
I think it is not important from where you are,importaint who you are inside! It does not matter what passport do you have. So I like all foreingers in my country. Because we are all people!

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rreze's picture
rreze 9 December, 2012 - 15:03

Whenever we go somewhere else , considering that we come from an small town in Montenegro called Ulcinj, people think that we are arrogant and disrespectful .. But that's not true at all.. :)

p.s. love the story. :))

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Starlette Lady's picture
Starlette Lady 30 July, 2012 - 17:22

You know, when sometimes I feel embarrassed in front of many people, or when I think someone's laughing at me and 'stinging' all the time (like in your case, with 'fatty' or umbrella-man), I just remember a line from a song: "I don't care what you think, as long as it's about me..." that helps, I'm serious. I just feel independent from all the other people's thoughts... and stings as well.

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