Wednesday, 17 June 2009


You know what, I'm convinced that France isn't actually just an hour away. I'm pretty sure that when you step aboard the plane, you actually go through some kind of space / time continuum and actually fly to the other side of the world. Despite learning the language from the age of about 6 until I was 15 - combined with after school tuition and frequent holidays to the country itself, communication in this foreign tongue still completely evades me. Helpfully, the only sentence that remains prominent in my mind is J'ai douze ans (I am twelve).

Once you're actually in France, there's a few things that become immediately apparent. The men consider anything in a skirt fair game. The women consider anything in a skirt competition. Young, greasy haired men in tight trousers yelling incoherent jeers in your direction is enough to make you cringe and tug your skirt down a few centimeters. But when you've got a 70 year old man mumbling lewd French thoughts with an added 'Haw he haw' as you walk down the street, letting their eyes wonder up and down your body, then nudging their mate to do the same - it's enough to make you bloody agoraphobic. Perhaps this is why the streets were mostly empty throughout the day. On Tuesday we dragged ourselves away from the pool and headed into the nearest town at about 11:30am, only to find it completely deserted; the shops closed apart from a few cafes.

When we did find one open, there's nothing like linguistic incompetence to brighten your shopping experience. It's a continual embarrassment to me that I am so inept at basic French conversation when every other person on the continent seems an expert at English. When it came to explaining what it was I needed, I could do nothing but look confused and go "Errr, c'" before using my best drama skills to act it out. And then there's paying. Oh, god - paying. I'd often sort of just thrust a 20 Euro note in the shop keeper's direction and hope for the best, rather than try and figure out exactly what the amount they require is. "Could you say it slowly?" or "Can you write it down?" only ever resulted in them saying the amount again, but faster.

Anyway, so all that's just my way of saying that instead of practicing my French, mingling with the locals and spending lots of money in their shops, we mostly stayed at the house, ate copious amounts of cheese, tasted the local produce from the surrounding vineyards and err, flopped by the pool. All day. Sometimes all you need in life is a good book (or a stack of four, in my case), some sun cream and a box set of The Wire.

Et voila, mon vacation fin.


miss*H said...

that sounds exactly like me when i'm abroad..typical brit. At least you tried to speak the lingo and didn't use the usual brit abroad language of speaking very slowly in english/french...un beer por favor

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Yeah, I also avoided doing the whole just speaking louder in english. Just a confused look and "errrrrr!" seemed to suffice.


Robbie said...

I'm doing alright with my numbers now. Most of the time I pay by card anyway but those few times I do pay with cash I get my -intas/entas mixed up and stick a couple of cents on top.
Not that thats quite bad, but when your holding up a queue trying to get an extra couple of cents out of your hand (those coins are so tiny) and not realising you've already put up the more then the amount it's a little embarrasing.

Grump said...

Aurevoir pour la week, mes amie, j'go deux practice mon francais. Oui. Petit cochon. Bon voyage!
I bet that saying has come back to bite you on the derrier.
Was it the south of france you were visiting, hence the siesta, I not sure if they take one in the north. My Nan who had married a frog could never get the hang of the lingo. She used to say they spoke to fast, and couldn't make a cup of tea to save themselves. She was from Shepherds bush which wasn't the best breeding ground for multilingual speech.
Mark x

The Unbearable Banishment said...

I hear the men in Rome are even worse. If that's possible.

Shelby Stidham said...

I laugh because men are the same everywhere, it seems. I live on the west coast in the states and it seems that most men undress every woman with their eyes and then turn into indignant assh*les when you don't like it.

Glad you relaxed in France.

BTW, found your blog from Robbie's blog and I laughed the whole time I read your header. True and hilarious, especially the last bit with Jablakov. I, too, agree.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Ah bonjour all!

Robbie - Yeah, I've been toying with the idea of taking a little trip to Spain (Madrid), but due to me knowing even less Spanish than I do French, I'd have to stick with my chaperone out there all the time! But yeah it's embarrassing when you give the wrong money...

Grump - Yep I went to the South (just outside Beziers) - but even so, 11:30 is a bit early for a siesta! Cheating sods. I agree with the tea. They can't even get Lipton peppermint right.

Unbearable - Yeah, I've heard that too. Shudder.

Shelby - Hello! It probably is universal (pervy men). Glad you liked the header. The annoying bastards I speak of are the blokes in France. And Italy, for that matter.

Around My Kitchen Table said...

What is it about the French language? I can read it perfectly well and I can speak it well enough to make myself understood. But can I understand a word they gabble back at me? No I cannot. I think it's a deliberate ploy by the French to make the rosbifs feel inferior!

Mouldy-Old-Tartlet said...

Bonjour encore mon ami! C'a été un long temps!

Gah, I cant keep it up. Welcome back. Awful about the pervs.

Anonymous said...

Oh you have shattered my illusions. I assumed you were a close to fluent French speaker and roamed around sounding all french and sexy.

I find my French improves a lot if I stay with French people and hear no English at all. Otherwise I can understand OK but just can't find the right words until the moment has passed (which is pretty useless).

Glad you had a good time anyway.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Around - SO GLAD to hear that I'm not the only one who thinks the French speak at warp speed. Ribbit.

MOT - Oui madame! At least they didn't ask "C'combien?" (how much? def spelt that wrong)

Relucs - The whole staying out in France and never speaking english ever again worked for my sister for the 4 years she was out there...I just don't think I could do it!

Lynx said...

I find that with the small amount of French I do know, I have to pronounce everything absolutely perfectly; otherwise they pretend they can't understand me at all. When I give up and say it in English, they say exactly what I said in the first place, but with an almost imperceptible change in emphasis. I'm damn sure they know exactly what I mean but are just being awkward! What's worse is that they then speak English with a real Inspector Clouseau accent, yet I can still work out what they're saying!

Strangely enough the Turkish guys in my local kebab shop in Brussels have no trouble understanding my French.


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