Bon voyage!

The French travel rather well.The French tend to holiday in their home country, especially during ‘les grandes vacances’ of summer. After all, why go anywhere else when you have so much to enjoy at home? Between the invigorating coasts of Normandy and Brittany, the beauty of the Alps and the sunny beaches of the south, there is something for everyone.

But since the low-cost airlines opened up the skies of Europe, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to discover the world beyond our borders. Living in France, we enjoy taking off for the weekend to neighbouring capitals like London, Lisbon, Barcelona or Berlin. And when we do, lo and behold, we find them. Sitting at the next table or right beside us on the bus. The very people we thought we’d left behind.

Les Français. They’re easy enough to spot when they’re not at home: the quiet ones who tend to keep to themselves. Who mutter in French to each other, usually things like: ‘Rien compris’ (I didn’t understand). Who clutch a French guidebook, usually le Routard or Lonely Planet. And who always look a little hungry.

As a native speaker, I am instantly at home in any English-speaking country and can travel to most parts of the world with the confidence of knowing that someone will speak my language. This gives me an unfair advantage over my compatriots, one that I shamelessly exploit. When abroad, I enjoy going undercover and observing the French as they struggle to adapt to my world. It’s payback time.

I watch them studying the menu board outside a restaurant so intently, trying to determine whether the food will be remotely edible. Queuing politely to buy tickets and timidly trying out their English. Putting their best foot forward in every way.

They’re like fish out of water. But the fact is, the French are great travelers. They’re well-read, knowledgeable about their destination and prepared to walk its streets. They explore, adapt to local customs, try the special foods. They’re budget-savvy and know how to find the best deals without dropping needless cash on bells and whistles.

In fact, when they’re not at home the French are much more endearing than they are in France. (Unlike certain other nationalities who shall remain nameless on this blog – I’ve already offended enough sensibilities.) I guess that’s because when they’re not on home turf, they don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi – no, actually I do: arrogance. Yes, folks, the French can be humble. And it is a lovely thing to see.

Last week we were in Scotland visiting our wee lass and there were a great many French-speaking tourists in our midst. The combination of the Scottish brogue and the French r-r-r’s made for some challenging communications. But overall, I was quite impressed at how well everybody managed to understand each other.

Seems a little humility goes a long way.

So, where are you going this summer? Home or away?

12 thoughts on “Bon voyage!

  1. Haha, true that! I tried my best to speak French last time I was in France, but the locals didn’t seem to have the patience for my efforts and switched to English immediately. And then they looked pretty annoyed. Like it was my fault….
    But I will be in France this summer, actually, for a language course in the city of love !

    1. Summer is a great time to visit Paris as all the locals will be away on vacation! I’m sure you’ll find it easier going as your French improves. Bon voyage!

  2. Alas these days there are no holidays but when we visit somewhere like Conwy or Chester there are so many foreign accents it quite feels like a holiday.
    One day I hope to get to the Cathar Country and visit some of the castles there.
    xxx Hugs Galore xxx

    1. Oh, yes, the Languedoc-Roussillon is gorgeous country. Personally, I’d love to visit Wales one of these days and add my accent to the mix. Stunning scenery. What is the best (least wet) time?

  3. “It’s payback time”… Do you fully realize, Mrs, that Anglophones are truely privileged everywhere ? And in France as everywhere. It’s rather easy for a non French speaker to find someone who will speak a little English, even at least the essential words . A Slovak tourist, a Japanese one, a Dutch, won’t ever meet a local able to say a word in their tongues . We all have, when traveling, to rely on a foreign tongue, English . Compare your situation, all of you, to a Frenchman’s, traveling alone in the UK or the US and not able to make a sentence or to understand answers in English . Just fancy that, and how local people would and could cooperate ! Stunning how much Anglo naive forget this evidence .

    1. I’m well aware that we anglos have it easy compared to all other languages. But ‘payback time’ (jokingly) refers to all those moments of ‘incomprehension’ on the part of the French, when I struggled to say something in your language and was met with a blank stare. It’s a two-way street.

  4. No summer here but we just spent a great time in country NSW freezing our butts off! The open fires, red wine, fantastic food, beautiful family and friends and tiny icicle rain drops on plants, more than made up for the cool weather. Thanks for sharing your personal perspective. I love Scottish accents but sometimes find them almost impossible to decipher!

    1. NSW sounds lovely, much like Canada. Agree with you on the Scottish accents, especially as I have a hearing problem. But I love the country and the culture. Thanks for sharing!

  5. The French are brave to try communicating in Scotland- I had problems understanding the Scottish, and I’m English 🙂
    I remember serving an English family on a terrasse in the Cantal way back in 1989. When the father stuttered “katreu glas à la frez, see voo play” one of the kids burst into tears, saying “I don’t like strawberry any more! Learn a new word, daddy!” I gave them the list of flavours and they looked at me like I was some kind of super hero. I hope Daddy made an effort for the next trip to France 🙂

    1. Funny story! It doesn’t seem too hard to figure out a few words in the local lingo and I believe that making the effort is worth it. And I don’t feel so bad when even the English struggle with Scottish accents!

    1. Moi aussi! I’m a homebody at heart, and if I didn’t have family in various parts, and a husband with itchy feet, would probably never leave home.

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