Anyone with what appears to be an English accent around here is automatically known as l'anglais or l'anglaise, depending on their gender.
In private it can often be les anglos – as in Anglo-Saxon – and brings with it a tinge of distaste. (No, that's not quite fair – it's more an expression of the historical notion of a colder people from the north.)
Few here can differentiate between the elongated vowel sounds and rising and falling pitch of an American, say, and hear only a slight fuzziness in accent when speaking to a Scottish, Welsh or Irish person. So we're all lumped into the English category. In fact, much to their chagrin, just as often as the Dutch when they're speaking French.
For obvious reasons the French have no such problems with recognising the sibilant phrases of the Belgians, and certainly not with the guttural tones of the foolhardy few Germans who've settled in an area where scars have still not healed. But then, as in all insular rural communities, an incomer of 50 years standing from a parish 30 miles away may still be known by the name of their county.
In the main it is nothing personal, just fact and the lazy, easy identification that happens even now the length and breadth of Scotland.
As an immigrant I never forget I am a guest in this country, and, as any good guest, I hope my stay will be a courteous one; I am respectful of my host's standards and practices and prepared to accept and abide by them.
Sure, I can sit at a French table and curse, as they do, the ludicrous bureaucratic rules that steal our lives away; denigrate present policies and politicians, compare and contrast previous and present lives and systems. I may criticise loudly and passionately attitudes to animals but bow, teeth gritted, to cultural differences.
But, aware that I do not have the linguistic, and therefore intellectual skills, that wrap a difficult conversation in honey and sly praise while dripping the acid, I remain within careful lines that I do not cross.
At heart love of one's country is like love of one's child. Only the guardian of such can publicly chastise and criticise; let others try and rightly let them feel the slash of the lion's paw.
Ah, but there's always a get-out, isn't there? An opportunity to be perceived as different; given a permit to transgress and occasionally tiptoe over and back across the lines.
With the experience of two passports, two nationalities, I've crossed real borders all my professional life.
Hi, I'm Fidelma, who would you like me to be today? Or, rather, what do I need to be to be smiled upon more kindly here and get the story? Which passport should I use to ensure a smoother passage?
By birthplace: English. By upbringing from infancy and choice: southern Irish. By length of stay in any one country and by my child: Scottish.
So of course I knew that by the time I arrived here it was always, shall we say, helpful to be Irish or Scottish, never English. Police, ready to book me; tricky functionaries at the tax offices; stern-faced women in the post office and shops – all changed their look and attitude when I said in answer to their question: anglaise? "Non. Je suis irlandaise." Of course I threw in my long years in Scotland as belt and braces to my case or cause.
It has, so far, never failed and always elicits a warm response and immediate change of attitude.
I think I know why – of course I know why – but for fear of being accused of racism in these strange days, cannot try to explain. It says much for my English friends here and their tolerance that they listen to such tales with smiling understanding as, to their credit, they always have.
Historically the Irish and the Scots always joined the French against the common enemy – the English. The Scots, however, forged a legal pact, forever known as the Auld Alliance, in the 13th century to stop England's expansionist plans.
It was not just a military alliance but also a fusion of everything fine between the two countries, right down to the import of the first choice of the best Bordeaux wines to the Scots via Leith Harbour. English merchants seethed in resentment.
A little known part of that alliance though, and the most interesting, was the giving of joint nationality between both countries. Until the French revoked it in 1903, every Scot had dual nationality with France, and vice versa.
Only learning of that recently, to my surprise and ignorance, I tried to track it further.
It seems, according to one academic, there was no similar withdrawal to the French, so technically all French still have dual nationality in Scotland.
Perhaps Alex Salmond should invoke it in some form of fiscal paradise in his independent Scotland to woo, without papers, the rich and famous from France.
My imagination is soaring at the thought of all the fine wines heading your way – first choice; cheap price. The cheese, the foie gras - la vie francaise.
Maybe not. You could have got Gerard Depardieu.
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