It’s nearly June and in a few days we will be sorting out the camping bits and pieces ready for a trip to France – all that lovely cheese, the markets, even the hypermarkets are anticipated. Usually we know some of the people we will meet, but not this time, except by accident perhaps.
This means a new lot of people to try out my French on. It’s got quite good over the years, in fact last year I was asked if I was a Belgian, so even if my accent was a bit odd at least I was making sense.
One problem I do have with France, apart from the necessary ferry trip, is the assumption that because I am English I can’t possibly speak French. Last year on the outskirts of Paris I had fifteen minutes of conversation with a lady who knew I was English. Then she suddenly realised that I was speaking French and she could understand me. O.K. my French isn’t perfect. I don’t know all the latest argot, but I can read fluently, and even pray in the language. Why is everyone so astonished? No one was ever surprised to hear me speak Urdu in Pakistan or Romanian in Romania, though I do admit that when I tried out my very limited Italian near lake Como the shopkeeper replied in German, my accent was so bad.
Another possible problem for us is that one member of our party is a vegetarian. That’s OK you think. All those lovely fresh vegetables. But try ordering a vegetarian meal in most restaurants in France. Meals are often set out with a choice of starter, main course and dessert. We can’t afford a la carte, but no matter how carefully we negotiate we have never yet been allowed to substitute two starters for one and a main course. Is it any wonder most meals will be cooked on a camp stove?
The car boot sales (brocante) make up for most things though. OK I admit it, I still haven’t found a place for the bathroom shelves we brought back two years ago.
In spite of all the difficulties we usually face, I find people are generally helpful and kind – A child stuck in the toilet? No problem. A caravan jammed in a hole that suddenly appeared in the tarmac (apparently General Rommel had been through in the 1940’s and dug under the road to make a trap.) We fell into it in 2005. But, even this was no problem. ‘I’ll get the boys’ – all over 60 and playing cards behind the garage. We camped illegally in the village square that night, and next day everyone turned out to see us off. Vive la France!
I only wish it was a bit nearer. No, make that a lot nearer.