Sunday, July 10, 2005

Doing it the French way

I was in France a few years ago visiting the love of my life and we were staying on a farm. The farm where Martine, the artist, lived. Her mother called me. She knew I was an electrician and wanted me to fix her two video players. So I mosied over to the farm house and had a looksee. The first video player was clogged up with some plastic so that was an easy fix. The second had a terrible picture, snowsville Arizona. The heads needed cleaning I asked for some alcohol, alcool. They looked at me strangely. Is this the way English engineers worked? But with a shrug they came up with the goods, if that was what it was going to take to get the Video fixed then so be it. A bottle of wine was brought out and presented to me along side a glass. "No!" I protested "Alcool" They misunderstood me. I didn't want wine I wanted alcohol. So they went away and came back with a bottle of 24 year old Malt whiskey and a small shot glass. I didn't want much. Again I gestured that it wasn't what I wanted and they waved their arms around as if to say "if that's not good enough we don't know what is."
So I had to spend a few more minutes explaining that I didn't need a drink. I just needed alcool to clean the heads of the video. My French wasn't good enough and they didn't speak a word of English.
Eventually using sign language and luck I got what I needed and fixed the video. Martines mother was very pleased and proceeded to kiss me. Then because she was pleased the farm hands, big burley men, proceeded to kiss me as well. Well as an "Anglais" I was not used to this. It's not everyday in England farm workers grab me and kiss me. It's a bit of a shock to the system. I was invited to dinner to celebrate the fixing of the two video players. Of course I had to have an aperitif. Out came the 24 year old malt whiskey. A generous helping. Yes, in case you're wondering it was very nice. For starters we had fresh baked baguettes and paté. A large wine glass was put beside my plate and filled with red Vin de table. I was already a little dazed from the whiskey. Then the main course. Huge thick chunks of beef with special roast potatos and haricot vert and more wine. Followed by bread and cheese and more wine. I was reeling. My glass being topped up at every possible opportunity. I lost track of how much I had drunk. By the end of the meal I didn't know what day it was. The farm workers who I swear had as much to drink as me, went back to work. I staggered back to our flat in a converted barn. I could hardly stand.
I was woken two hours later by Heléne. "You 'ad dinner with Martines mother?"
"You 'ad the full dinner? With wine?"
"Mon pauvre Anglais, I should 'ave warned you."
"How do those guys work in the afternoon?"
"They are used to it. You are Anglais."
I hadn't the strength to protest. I was pissed. She laughed and lay on our bed, her arms round me, while I slept it off. She wasn't angry. But she didn't let me forget it for a while. She took the piss out of me mercilessly. That's the way it was between us. She is French I am English. I take the piss out of her about Agincourt and Trafalgar. And she takes the piss out of me for our bad food. Even though I argue that here in England our food is brilliant. Our traditional fare is Spaghetti Bolognese, kebabs and curry. You can't get more English than that. She told me that we are called Rosbif in France. I said I couldn't remember the last time I ate Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. So I had to counter by telling her that we thought they lived on Frogs legs and Snails. She said that was disgusting and she would never eat those. So it was stalemate.
We thrived on taking the piss out of each other. We were different but our differences were special. She loved our English idiosynchrasies. I loved hers. But at the same time they were an endless source of piss taking.
I can't believe we didn't end up hating each other, with the mutual criticisms. I asked her once why the French hated the English so much. She said "if it's any consolation we 'ate the Germans more." So that's OK then.

Chirac recently criticed the English cuisine. saying it was worst second only to the Finnish. I'd love to ask Helene about that. What is English cuisine? Our cuisine is so varied now because we are a multi racial society. Personally I live in chinese stir fries, italian pizzas, and curries with the odd meditterenean salad thrown in. Olives, sun dried tomato and all that stuff. Feta cheese. Give me a break. Chirac you are talking out your arse. He is the French equivalent of our Prince Philip. And he isn't English.

It's great that Helene and I could be together and take the piss out of each other. We're different but really we're the same. We had the same values, the same hopes. It's a shame it wasn't to be. We are all in the same European community. But we're not. She's there, I'm here. We are supposed to be one big family but borders still count for something. I haven't seen her in over two and a half years. I may never see her again.

Shit happens. Live with it...........................


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