The Dosser Chronicles: France

My first significant impression of The French I had received as a tartan-clad child in Protestant school. I had been freshly diagnosed with ADHD, and Valley Christian had recently implemented for all Kindergarteners the “Good Morning Song,” during which we should praise the Lord by concocting a tune that consisted of singing “good morning” in various languages.

Well, I was rather a scholar with the first bit, which was English. Then there came “Guten Morgen,” which I correctly deduced as some kind of Muppets variant. “Buenos Dias” was next, which perplexed me greatly. Then, “Bonjour.” Well, this was obviously nonsense.

My ability to spell correctly French-derived English words has not changed much since this day. And my spoken-French, I believe, has decreased.

It is, in fact, possible to live a full American life without meeting one French person. We are all aware that they bathe in cheese, have hats that melt on one side, and tend to take the easy way out, but we have never actually seen one. 

My second impression of The French came over twenty years later, when I was living in a West Philadelphia ghetto, where I observed an absurdly tall, absurdly thin gentleman, who possessed the uncanny ability to drink to farfetched excess, roll his own cigarettes with the accuracy and speed of a convict, perform great feats of mathematics with his brain alone, and speak through only his nose a curious dialect that consisted mostly of “fucking American bastards.”

Well, now, here was a friend. 

That French look taught in schools

18 months later and that same man, my good friend Paul, was driving us and various camping materials in his Volkswagen Golf along the northern coast of his native France.


It was in this charming river-town where I learned my first important cultural difference in France: there are no male bathrooms. Or, at least that’s the only logical conclusion available to us. All the men are piddling outside. 

Karl Pilkington once said that “if you’re not happy looking a knob in the face, there’s something wrong.” 

Full Pilkington investigation on knobs below:

And, whilst I agree with Mr. Pilkington, he does not specify anything as regards urination. Trusted friends have told me that I whinge in surplus, have too many a moan; but, I had been in France for fewer than ninety minutes and had in my time there taken more knobs to the face than I had during all of my American locker-room experiences combined. Yours truly also had his first experience with a Turkish bathroom, which, for those unaware, is, I am sure, a version of practical joke in France. I, for one, left laughing and nodding to my travel-companion in the negative.

Then, I learned another French curiosity, which ended up being similar in Germany: they still smoke here. And you can even do it at the restaurant table. I inquired amazedly with my companion if it were perhaps a lapse in decorum to assault the lungs of other restaurant patrons, whereupon he gave me that classic French look depicted above. To describe it physically would be redundant, but you are certain, whenever looking at it, that you are the dumbest person on Earth.

I and my guide were obliged to spend one afternoon in Paris. The Eiffel Tower, for those in doubt, is indeed real. But, more interestingly, deodorant is optional, whilst kissing strangers is mandatory. In fact, Paris is something of an introvert’s nightmare. Moreover, you are expected to contribute to the chaos, which does not stop, and people are touching you. French trains also trains rival American trains in the Nightmare-Factor. 

It was in Paris where I first saw an interesting soporific that is taken liberally throughout France. In The States, it is called Bocce Ball. Everyone in France is playing the game, though it’s certainly a stretch of the definition of the word. I am told that there is even a professional circuit.

Setting out for our journey along the northern coastline, I noticed something along the road that I really could not believe. I asked again and again of my friend if there were really baguette machines everywhere. Perhaps it were my accent, but he couldn’t understand my laughter. 

The coastline of France, I imagine, is one to rival coastlines across the globe. Take Étretat:

Your humble author caught in an unflattering pose whilst attempting to avoid skin cancer:

A true beauty to behold is that of Le Mont Saint Michel. My being utterly confounded with the most basic of construction methods, indeed feeling great accomplishment to the point of mania at connecting two Legos together with my own hands, the mind baffles at how this feat of architecture was possible in the fifth century. It is my understanding it be general discourse that, if a civilization were to exist in the past, then it were less advanced. I challenge you to visit Le Mont Saint Michel and then your local parking garage, and we may then again clash intellects. 

In general, France feels old, which is something I really like, as I’ve always preferred the friendship of the elderly to those of my age-bracket.

It must be said that I tend to make it my habit to render most of my experiences into a kind of understated, ironic, some might say, humorous bite to the neck. I’ve heard the term “take no prisoners” of my writing style. I should describe my French companion as of a similar ilk. International relations, however, took a turn for the sincere in Normandy.

Show me a man or a woman who can cast his or her eyes upon the over 9,000 Christian crosses and over 150 Stars of David on Normandy Beach without holding back tears, and I’ll show you someone in need of medical examination, if not of the eye, then of the heart. I’m here to report that my companion and I are apparently medically sound. 

I recall a young French girl momentarily locking eyes with the writer. She waved at me, slowly.

Moreover, the French hold a flag-folding ceremony and 21-gun salute (albeit gun-less) every day for the American lives lost in Normandy in the defense of a world ever in pursuit of Liberty. If that’s not love, then I’ve never felt love in my life.

When all matter crumbles, it is the upholding of the sacred contracts that we make to other human souls that stand, survive the hand of time. 

My companion and I did not speak for 45 minutes, which, barring times of sleep, was the longest time that we kept silent from each other, although his English vocabulary be not 1000 words, “fuck” consisting of 990 of them, my French being that of speaking English. It was here that I understood something immemorial.

France is beautiful country—the French a beautiful people.

I met a delightful French woman in England who said to me that “you could put The French in a box.” Whilst I imagine that you could fit anyone in a box, given the right box, they do feel like old friends, the French. I trust them. And that’s more than I can say of most. 

The Dosser Chronicles: London, England

All Anglophilia aside, if I were an American Colonist enjoying a toothless Boston evening in 1773 with the knowledge I have now of today’s American City versus present-day London, I should have taken the tax on tea to the chin and saved myself the hernia. 

To compare one country’s megalopolis to another country’s has become one of my ways of measuring a nation’s relative cultural prosperity. My approach is essentially two-fold: statistical analysis and subsequent foot-patrol.

London gets high marks.

British humor is superior; that is called Common Knowledge. And comedy ranks high on my list of human traits. But politeness is no straggler. Now, I am not one to over-generalize or make sweeping statements, but, perhaps due to lingering undue post-Empire guilt, all of London’s inhabitants are polite: every one of them. They apologize, even if it were your fault. An interesting event indicative of this took place at the intersection of Baker Street and A501. One man, rather maladroitly, cut another off in traffic. In Philadelphia, this is grounds for public execution (see recent news). In London, the victim of this crime lowered his window, concerned his face, and submitted three apologies. And sincere ones, too. Swelled the breast, that. It does my soul additionally well that Englanders seem not to flaunt their mannerly outlook on the world such as the Germans do. In Germany, it is true, they treat you well, and, by way of politically-postered streetlamp, they remind you of the fact every fifty feet. But that is for a forthcoming article. Notwithstanding, one gets to enjoy all of this English politeness under a perfectly grey, dreary sky, rainy afternoons feeling not the cultural shame here as they do in other parts of the world.

Maybe it is all of the rain, but London is clean. I understand that rough, dirty neighborhoods must exist in the east of London somewhere–Dickens says it all the time–but I have not any evidence for it. I am convinced that a man could drop his Toad in the Hole on the West London easement and only add to the quality of its Yorkshire Pudding.

Speaking of quality, the American public transportation is one of the triumphs of Savagery in the Modern world. One foot upon American public transportation and you instantly understand The Primitive, two feet and you can feel your brow grow. In the United States, the Germans get all of the credit as engineers, as pioneers of both private and public transportation. These folks have obviously experienced neither London’s Underground nor England’s National Rail.

But neither are Englanders soulless utilitarians. Though a megalopolis larger and more populous than New York, London felt spacious and tranquil, its body kissed hither and thither by parks and gardens, even its streets buttonholed with floral arrangements. And they, those of England, seem to have a delightful obsession with flowers–in particular with gardens–so much so that they call their backyard a garden, whether it has one or not.

My literary hero is Karl Pilkington, but Shakespeare takes a close second; therefore, my seeing “The Tempest” at The Globe Theatre was something of a treat for myself, being the moderate agoraphobe that I am. My delight was additionally increased with each actor’s lines in the open-air theatre being challenged by the hooligans along the Thames reminding the welkin that they are England Till They Die, and furthermore intimating social reform in Italy, suggesting, to the rhythm of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that Italy can “…shove its tacky TV up (its) ass”–for I had chosen to spend £80 on a Shakespeare play that occurred two hours before the start of the England versus Italy Euro Final.

Later, in a pub, a man with a penchant for making beer disappear with his throat muscles asked if I were Italian. It is fairly easy for even the cultural layman to deduce that this, for me, is certainly not the case. But, what this gentleman lacked in observational skills, he made up for in vim and national pride. I informed him that I indeed was not, after which I could not have asked for a better friend.

Some might read the previous descriptions of hooliganism as gross impropriety, and I should agree, if, as I know in Philadelphia to be the case, the city stayed trashed for a generation or two after the warm-bloodedness of the evening. But it did not.Yes, it was a right, proper, bloody mess, but only for the evening. By morning, there was precisely zero evidence suggesting that a national crisis had occurred. And that brings me to my next point.

I, for one, am impressed by the duality possessed by English citizens to be both entirely civil, yet possess this Bulldog Breed in them to, in a moment, operate as jackals do over fresh opponents. But, never against Sandford’s Most Wanted:

The Sherlock Holmes Museum was a perfect tourist trap, but a good one.

The Dickens Museum was similar.

There’s good evidence in the United States that books have become defunct technology, but it is apparently not so. One literary delight is true: they read more in England. Everyone–and, by everyone, I mean about twenty percent–are reading. I have never seen so many bookstores. I saw a teenage girl walking through heavy traffic knee-deep in a Russian triple-decker. And this goes for the rest of Europe as well, perhaps even more so on the continent. So, it is no wonder why so many American writers turn ex-pats in Europe: it is the only way that they would taste anything but their shoes for supper. You may even have them with tartar sauce here, if you like. 

Of course you will likely experience most of the abovementioned whilst indeed eating your shoes, as you will not have any money left after your first day in London. I was selling my soul each day to inhabit a closet that my host called a “cozy apartment.” I ignored my cardinal rule to be always suspicious of adjectives, especially if they are in the ameliorative.

If it seems to you that I have done too much putting up of London, that perhaps I am naive, that perhaps my nose looks a bit darker than usual, you would be right. Neither did I expect a city to get such a high rating from me. But we cannot control with whom we fall in love, for better or for worse.

Canterbury, however: Now here is a stinker if I have ever smelled one. The Canterbury Tales–especially the part where Absolon is duped into making-out with what is certainly not a woman’s mouth in the night through a window, and thence commenting on her beard–is one of my favorite books. But, Canterbury The Town lacked the same magic. I made the pilgrimage, sure–to a load of shops, and bad ones at that. Sadly, I did not make it to the Cliffs of Dover, mainly because I thought that, after seeing Canterbury, I might jump off.

Bath was indeed a special place. A bit too much of the medieval-town-turned-shopping center again, but it was at least a nice slice of Roman Antiquity to look at.

Strangely enough, Bath also possesses an establishment called The Black Fox, which has the same name of the pub that my family used to own in Bury St.Edmunds. So, naturally, I stopped for a beer and a fish therein.

Matthew Arnold wrote something about Irish poetry being charmingly sentimental but not logical enough, and German poetry as being excellently logical but without enough pixie-bone. He asserted that The English were an extremely successful, likeable bunch with a great literature due to the fact that, both genetically and culturally, they posses both the Irish and German sentiments. And Matthew Arnold, much unlike yours truly, was something special.

Now, I know that there’s no such thing as perfection, but England strives for it, and fails, but there is something to smile about in its attempt. 

The Dosser Chronicles: Dublin, Ireland

Within the metropolitan centre of Dublin, Ireland, charms abound lie in wait just around every knackered-up bodega. Turn right at the naked gang of squawking slag (not to be confused with the flocks of seagulls overhead)–these entities can be most easily differentiated by whose collective buttocks do more ocular damage to the Dublin street–and you might find Dublin’s Live 24-Hour Primitive Urban Performance Art Exhibit, exhibited in the wide array of detailed and thought-provoking scrawlings, or “spray-paintings,” that can be found on the various huckster dens, dungeons for cheap wares, or “storefronts,” as they are known in this region.

Turn left at the gentleman relieving the contents of his upper intestinal tract upon the easement in broad daylight, and you might catch one of the many scheduled donnybrooks at St. Stephen’s Green (access to both Marquess of Queensbury and Group Melee available), where there is also apparently the world’s first under-sixteen outdoor dance-club in perpetual operation.

If you’re in for something a bit more exciting, however, you might take a long, thoughtful, fifty-foot saunter over the elaborate and apparently famous Ha’Penny Bridge, or, if you’re a literary sort, enjoy a quiet afternoon in solitude with an iron James Joyce, located in the chaotic city-centre.

Eye contact in Dublin is, by law, a serious offense and is punishable by throw-down. Moreover, greetings that manifest in reciprocal positive social interaction have yet to be introduced here, and so it is folly to attempt communication of this kind. With regard to one’s options in local cuisine, both Pepto Bismol or Maalox are offered. These aid in the processing of the trans fats.

The “art” located within The Hugh Lane Gallery of Impressionist Works gave a great impression of Dublin.
The late Sir Roger Scruton is turning in his grave.

Now, it must be said that I am no wheeler and dealer, least of all in the art of world-navigation. But, I knew something was up, whenever I began to unanimously prefer the society of my accommodations to that of Dublin’s.

Not for me, overall.

Yet, Ireland’s “woods,” to borrow from The Bard, are “more free from peril than the envious court. Here feel we not the penalty of Adam.”

It must be made first clear that I visited no proper woods. In fact, my total experience outside of Dublin consisted of two disparate day-trips to the nearby sea-towns of Dalkey and Howth, sea-towns that helped curb the overwhelming spiritual enlightenment that I achieved in Dublin.

Dalkey is a small coastal town in County Dublin located about eight miles south of Dublin im-Proper. Its town centre is tight, stoney, and turning–and the small buildings crowd the cobbled thoroughfare, providing that slower sense of the antiquated. Killiney Hill presented a delightfully charming, compact hike comprised of the all tortuous greenery and dry-laid stone walls one might conjure. Much unlike Dublin, here there were both a touch of the mystical and a certain intimacy that leads one towards benevolent thoughts.

Nooks and Crannies over Slags and Fannies
Killiney Hill

Howth was a bit more of a proper seafaring kind of town, where, apparently, raincoats are only to be found and purchased in precisely one golf store. It is admittedly my blunder, yes, for not packing a raincoat to Ireland. Fair enough. I was rightfully rendered a certain species of slimy and slithering sea creature for some hours before the €200 indiscretion. Anyway, the main thoroughfare was smart, and the pier was–fine. The people, despite the freezing rain, were the centre of warmth itself. And the Howth Cliff-Walk was a spectacle to rival many.

In any case, Country and Town still take the crown, and the City serves still as King of the Clowns.

I also just narrowly missed the date of my nation’s birth. Happy American Independence Day. Get Yanked.

I suppose, then, that this might be a good time to give England a go. And, I think that’s just what I’ll do.