France is somewhere that I regularly visited for business and holidays across many years. It often became a country to travel through to reach others, but never too quickly. Now my visits to France usually include a visit to catch up with my French family.
My wife taught French and my daughter has essentially become French. My French, though I did once achieve an ‘O-level’, was and remains pretty dire. I have reasonable vocabulary but little in the way of grammar, verb-endings or genders.
I should have had no surprise that my daughter was drawn to France. I recall an early family trip where we were driving and rather lost. I stopped and asked a passer-by for directions. I then remonstrated in the car about how stupid these directions were, the passer-by had said tout droit and I complained to my family that if we kept going right then we would end up back where we started. It was my young daughter who explained patiently that it meant go straight on.
I also recall being with my wife in the Paris Flea Market at the Porte de Clignancourt and again we became lost within its maze. I delightedly pointed out that we must be near the door when I saw a sign saying prêt-à–porter, and suggested this was some strange version of près de la porte. She resignedly explained my error!
I freely admit to these early errors because I have a good friend who moved to France, married a French girl and took French nationality. He lived there for many years but could not reliably recall genders either. So he invented a middle-ground option. If he was unclear if something was a le or a la he used instead his invented term lu. He did this with such charm that most locals appeared to smile and forgive him!
Of course having a French grandson is not without its sporting clashes. When my team, Chelsea, came back from a first leg deficit to beat Paris Saint-Germain, there was some tension. Just the modern equivalent of the friction between England and France that has lasted centuries. Surely a classic case of the Arabic saying that ‘your neighbour is your enemy, your neighbour’s neighbour is your friend’?
I recall my daughter bringing a friend to England who seriously asked me ‘Why is it that the English and French have a problem.’ I suggested it went back to events like Agincourt, her friend countered with Jeanne d‘Arc, that sounded like QED to me!
Punctuating the story – I have chosen to insert passages about French culture, idiosyncrasy and illustrative pieces, throughout the otherwise largely chronological review. So these are shown in italics and a font change.
Any errors of fact are mine, as are every one of the dubious opinions, but hopefully these will merely drive you to make your own.
Do let me know if there are any real howlers so I can update these in the next edition, and tell me what I missed!