As I watched Queen Elizabeth II on French TV attending her Diamond Jubilee service at St Paul`s Cathedral, I realised how different the situations in UK and France are as far as religions are concerned. I have now been living in London for a week and I have the feeling that churches here are a little bit more than tourist attractions. They still have a place in national life and attendance at cathedral services remains strong.
In France about two-thirds of people describe themselves as Christian but I am afraid it is more about tradition than personal belief.
An American friend of mine, who has been at university in France since last September, told me he could barely bring himself to tell French people he was a Christian as he was worried about what their reaction would be. "France is the country of secularism," he remarked. He paused before adding "no religion".
Although secularism is not exactly "no religion", he pointed out something I had not realised until then and I can understand his anxiety. France has a reputation as the most secular country in the world, even anti-religious.
Actually, I get a wide range of reactions myself when I say I am a Christian and go to church on Sundays. Such as, "Have you ever thought about having your own opinions?" "If you don't go to church, are you punished somehow?" "Do you have a cult leader?" "Oh, I am a Christian too, I go to church at Christmas!" "If you need to believe in something bigger to feel good, I think that's okay."
I have even been laughed at to my face.
The situation in my country for religions and believers is quite bizarre, and full of inconsistencies. For example, teachers are not supposed to give their opinion on religion or politics in the classroom. But I lost count of the times my teachers (including one teacher who came from England) openly dismissed the existence of a God or something else faith-related as "nonsense". At university, faith was rubbished in stronger and more profane terms.
On the contrary, I do not recall any teacher sharing their faith or talking positively about Christianity or any other religion. Yet I am sure that if I pressed my teachers on their insensitivity they would not think of themselves as anti-religious. Such language is so ordinary it's not even considered offensive.
French philosopher and writer Voltaire was a well known opponent of the Christian faith and used his satire, Candide, to take a swipe at religion in general. If you have ever read Candide, which almost all French high schools students have to study, you will have a pretty good idea of how most French feel about religions, especially Christianity.
So, dear Britons - affectionately known as 'Les Rosbifs' in France - while you are seeing the influence of the church in England gradually decreasing, let me assure you of the sympathy of your French brothers and sisters. I hope you islanders will resist like you always have!