London has a can-do feel about it that is missing in Paris. It is not just that Londoners appear on a permanent deadline while Parisiens do dawdling like Gustave Eiffel did large metal landmarks. A favourite lunchtime game for one English girlfriend and I used to be sitting on brasserie terraces betting who would be first to spot a French person hurrying. Frequently, neither of us won. I am not talking about important national or global issues like the economy or markets or money in which most agree London is more dynamic. It is more a state of mind that seems to make mundane everyday things simpler and problems easier to resolve. (I just know I am I asking for trouble writing that)
Let me start by breaking a tooth on, embarrassingly, a pickled onion from Asda that had a stone in it. Can-do factor one was being able to see a dentist within half an hour of rear molar disintegrating. The guy saw me during what should have been his lunch hour. Can-do factor two was Asda reimbursing me the £65 for the tooth repair (not to mention the 78p or whatever it was for the jar of pickled onions) with fulsome apologies. This simply would not happen in France. Why? I will give you some clues: lunch hour; fulsome; apology.
Coincidentally, the next can-do also involved teeth. Last year, I bought one of those electronic thingamyjigs that clean your teeth - not altogether painlessly - by shooting jets of cold water at them. It lasted three months then the battery refused to charge. As I had become masochistically dependent on it but could not find the receipt, I bought a second. It lasted barely a month before the battery died. I wrote a polite email to the American manufacturers Waterpik, but although the United States claims to have invented can-do, nobody replied. So I took it back to Boots where I had bought it. A very helpful staff member from Photography said it was not his department but he took the dud machine (with receipt but no box) and offered a refund or a replacement. No questions, no "I'll have to call the manager/Head Office/the Chief Executive Officer", no "Tsk, tsk. Where's the box? I can't change it without the box", just one happy customer who went on to spend even more money in Boots. Again, I know it would not happen in Paris, but in case anyone thinks I am being Francophobic I will quote the Frenchman who was there and who said: "Ca ne passera pas comme ça en France". My words exactly.
Then there was the can-do Post Office parcel man that went off and rummaged around goodness knows where to find my undelivered books. He did not even mention that the postman's note instructed waiting 24 hours before calling so the parcels could be properly filed and therefore require less rummaging. He even rummaged with a good humour and did not curse, or at least not within my hearing. I also appreciated the can-do of the man from Sogatel who sent me a replacement battery for the faulty Skype phone, or the man from ukdigitalcameras.co.uk who phoned up to double check my order and dispatched a camera that arrived the following morning. I do not know if they did it with a smile too, but their calls and emails were sunny and friendly. (I will move quickly over the Amazon order for a replacement camera battery that was supposed to be delivered within a couple of days but has, a week later, still not arrived...)
I needed all the can-do I could muster after foolishly asked one of my best girl friends to cut my hair after we had both had several glasses of wine. You think you have grown out of doing stupid things in drink, like asking your girl friend to cut your hair. Then life draws out its scissors and says: "You may have a wrinkles and think you know it all, but you just don't get it do you?" I was pretty cool when she went snip snip then said: "Oh dear, it's a bit short." I was not even particularly alarmed when she added: "Perhaps I shouldn't have done this and should have done it when I hadn't had a couple of glasses of wine," though it could have been the red wine or the convoluted double negative that got me there. No, it was when she said "You've a lot of dead ends" and added that she had to hurry to watch Strictly Come Dancing that I started to worry. Still, she is a good friend and both her daughters have fabulous haircuts so I ruffled the inch or so of remaining fringe and thought: "It's really not THAT bad." It was only later when other best friends fell off their chairs with mirth and suggested I resembled an ageing Suzi Quatro (remember her) with a 1970s "mullet" that I had a good, hard look in the mirror and realised my exposed Frankenstein-style forehead made me look ever so slightly moronic as my mother, a fringe fan, always warned it would. But this is can-do London. The following day I went to the trendiest hairdresser in the area, blamed the Frankenstein fringe on a French hairdresser, and had the rest of my hair neatly chopped to match the tiddly fringe. My girlfriend has not called but she might be relieved to know another mutual friend took one look at my new style and said: "It's lovely, so chic. In fact you look so French."
The move to France was only supposed to be for a couple of years, not forever. Then I met The Frenchman. Then I had La Fille. Now there's no way back. But La Fille, to whom a horse is a cheval and a frog is just pond life is still half English. So before the Gallic nation claims her for its own, sprinkles her with garlic, sautés her and swallows her up whole we make regular escapes on the Eurostar. And we have discovered the grass is various shades of green either side of the Channel.