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?