Dining across the divide: ‘To be out-niced, as a Canadian, is very upsetting’

An archaeologist and an environmental engineer disagree on lockdown and borders. Can they find common ground over the climate crisis?

Eric, 28, Reading


Occupation Archaeologist

Voting record Has voted in every UK election since 2017, typically anti-Conservative. In Canada, voted for the New Democratic party or Conservatives

Amuse bouche Has 12 or 13 fantasy novels in a drawer waiting to find a publisher

Julie, 37, Reading


Occupation Environmental engineer

Voting record Is eligible to vote only in local elections, where she backs Labour or Green. In France, has typically voted for the Socialist party

Amuse bouche Went to circus school, wanting to be a clown or train animals for the screen. Is heavily into juggling

For starters

Julie We were both a bit nervous, but in a nice way.

Eric Given the kind of ideals she held, I expected her to be university age. Someone the world had not made cynical or downtrodden.

Julie I was expecting somebody retired – more traditional in his thinking.

Eric I had a chicken thing with zucchini and chopped potatoes.

Julie I had the quinoa and tofu filo pastry – gosh, that sounds so middle-class.

Julie and Eric

The big beef

Julie He felt lockdowns caused much more damage than they prevented, that they made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Which I don’t disagree with, but in every crisis the poor suffer most. It was not the lockdown that caused that, it was Covid.

Eric A lot of the issues we’re seeing now with supply chains, actual starvation in the third world, increased suicide, increased waits at hospitals and inability to get surgery – I was saying all this would happen in March 2020. And I was called the worst kind of Nazi, placing economics over lives. We didn’t have any discussion about this, and anyone who attempted debate was shut down.

Julie I wonder if we don’t have a cultural difference – being French, we are more taught that you have to sacrifice yourself for society. I wonder if Canada is a bit more focused on individual freedom. He felt much more oppressed by being told what to do for the greater good.

Eric I said they were just doing lockdowns to increase wealth, to keep the gravy train flowing. She found that conspiratorial. I mean, I’m not 100% sure myself, but you look at it and the numbers don’t lie. It did concentrate wealth. Those who could survive a lockdown found a way to profit off those who couldn’t.

Julie The table next to us joined in, and we ended up having a four-person discussion. One lady worked for the NHS, and the four of us felt the NHS was not compromised by Covid – it was compromised before by underfunding.

Julie and Eric
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Sharing plate

Eric I said, “Let’s get this out of the way. Climate change is happening and humans are causing it.” I think the government is there to put controls on institutions and society, but stay out of what you do in terms of your life as long as it’s not hurting other people.

Julie I think we both felt the same about the environment – that it’s the most important thing we should consider today. We disagreed on how to get there. Eric said there was no point in individual actions if the big industries and government are not working better and quicker. I agree in a way, but we have to do our part.

Eric We agreed the government has to do more to regulate companies. It is cheaper to pay the fine and move to a country with fewer regulations than to abide by the regulations.

Julie and Eric
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

For afters

Eric She thought borders shouldn’t matter. But borders can be important to identity. There’s a reason the Kurds and the Uyghurs and the Ukrainians feel their borders are important.

Julie I said, “I’m from the south of France and I feel closer to Italy than northern France. We are all citizens of the world.” He said, “Well that makes you like Putin.” Being born into a country doesn’t represent anything to me except luck. He has a sense of pride that I don’t share.

Julie and Eric
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian


Eric Julie was anticipating somebody a lot more racist and more closed, and she still brought candy from her region of France to give to that person, so that said a lot about her. It shamed me because I had not brought her anything. To be out-niced, as a Canadian, is very upsetting.

Julie We were not that opposite, but some of his views made me reconsider. He was just a sensible, clever person.

Julie and Eric
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Additional reporting: Sarah Hooper

• Eric and Julie ate at London Street Brasserie in Reading

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part


Zoe Williams

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