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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Back from the Land Where They Speak a Lot of French Every Day

After all the stress with buying the new house, and settling in there, we decided that we needed a break. When friends of us mentioned that they wanted to go on vacation somewhere, we considered this a great idea and booked the flights and hotel in a little village in Southern France.

The telephone discussion I had with the friend of mine prior to the booking is particularly worth mentioning because it shows how differently men and woman handle organizing. See, I was a little bit confused and still thinking about all the stuff that needed to be done around the house. So when that friend called me and said that the hotel we had picked was real nice and they wanted to go there with us, I was more like: “Oh, maybe we can discuss this later”. I didn’t feel like discussing anything final. And then my friend made an extremely wise move: she handed the phone to her husband. And so did I. Three minutes later we had the flight tickets, the hotel was booked and we also rented two cars to drive around in the neighbourhood. Well done, gentlemen!

And so we went. We booked the tickets with Transavia. I am telling you this so you would consider other options of traveling before you book a flight with them. Their service is ridiculous. They wouldn’t allow to bring our double stroller to the gate with us, so one of us had to carry J. and K. had to walk through the whole Schiphol airport. My friend told us that she had to unpack her luggage because it was 2 kg too heavy. You get the idea. And the tickets are not cheap, either.

Nevermind, we landed, fetched the cars, made it to our village, and hours into our arrival there, we already commited a horrible faux-pas. See, we had the nerve to be hungry at 5pm. Who is hungry at 5pm? Not the French, obviously, because most restaurants were closed for a break and those that weren’t only served drinks and beverages.

So we sat down in one of the brasseries, and asked the waiter what we should do. Remember, we were hungry. And you know what happens when I am hungry. My friend? She was pregnant, and visibly so. The waiter then nodded in sympathy with our husbands, and pointed to a bakery and said that as soon as we buy drinks we are invited to eat our pastries and sandwiches on their premises. The waiter didn’t want to deal with one pregnant lady and one crazy lady and he was right. I wouldn’t want that, either.

The rest of the stay was wonderful. I managed to get some rest. We got to eat great food. K. must have been thinking that she had arrived in the Paradise of Cheese. She loves cheese, the smellier, the better. Every Saturday and Wendsday, there was a market where we could buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I bought Coeur du Beuf tomatoes which are like the best tomatoes ever. They look like little red wrinkled pumpkins but the taste is devine. I also bought avocados, but you already knew I would. I was also very tempted to ask the fish seller whether his fish were fresh but decided against it.

Our friends had a child just the same age as K., and K. played really well with her. Those girls were quite different but they seemed to have a really positive effect on each other. K., my little ball of energy on legs, showed the other girl (whose name I don’t want to mention here to protect her privacy) how to take more risks, and be more spontaneous. On the other hand, the other girl tought Klara how to share, and be more polite.

The day before we left we have commited our second faux pas, or even two of them. First, my pregnant friend and I ordered tea. With lunch. The waitress is probably still under shock. Secondly, we didn’t order the kid’s menu for K. because she probably wouldn’t eat it. K. eats everything but not every day and not in every quantity. And that’s OK, I prefer her to eat what we eat anyway.

Her little friend ordered the kids’s menu and didn’t eat it, so the girls shared their lunch which was nice. And of course, the French kid’s menu wasn’t much different that the usualy adult’s menu, it just came in smaller portions. The girls also ate bread with olive tapenade and loved it!

We ordered the whole menu and it was delicious. All of the courses served were fantastic, and the portions were just perfect so I could try everything (a starter of eggplant and bell pepper with cheese followed by baked lamb with purple! potatoe puree) and still had place left for dessert, a lovely chocolate lava cake. It was so yummy! I love France!

We also made little trips to other villages, and even went to the sea-side, where K. picked stones for everybody, as the beaches were full of them- they were not the sandy type. Basically we had a great trip. In the meantime, J. turned 1 year old, and made huge progress on her motoric skills. She also decided that she is too big to drink mommy’s milk. Yees! Freedom! However, we still have to convince her that nights are for sleeping, not for drinking.

You might ask me, why a title like this? Don’t the French speak French and isn’t it obvious? And you might be right. But French and I, we have a history. I have family in France, and my father grew up there, and French was my parents’s secret language when they didn’t want my brother and me to understand what they were saying. However, soon enough it turned out that I could understand it anyway but I didn’t take a course until much later, as German and later English became my priorities.

When I passed the Biggest Exam Any English Learner Could Take and couldn’t possibly pass any more exams in this language, I had the time and the mindset to start French again. It was easier for me than for other in the class. I could speak better and I understood more than they did. But I had problems with writing. At some point I went to live with a French family, my parents’ friends to work on my French. And it was great, and interesting, and I learned a lot. But the first day I arrived early in the morning, I went to see the city of Nancy (very lovely, I assure you) to do some shopping, I kept my head down and tried to make myself invisible so that nobody would attack me with their French. Hence the title.

I still feel the same way. Maybe it’s because I somehow seem to think I should speak it better. However, while my spoken French still works (but only when my partner in conversation doesn’t speak anything else), my reading skills are rather poor, and my writing is disastrous. Maybe I should get back to learning it, but I don’t have the time, and right now, Dutch is my priority. 

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