Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
Since President Zarkosy married his Italian bride, the French appear to becoming less xenophobic. This was not the case a few years back when I paid a visit to that country.
Circumstances had obliged me to overnight in the French province of Alsace-Lorraine, some fifteen miles from the German border. I was there to write an article on one of the best examples of French determination to keep foreigners out of their country – the Marginot Line.
My tour of the fortifications had taken longer than expected so I found a nearby country hotel, in the shadow of a ruined castle. Parking the car with its German number plates, I entered the premises and cheerfully greeted an attractive, impeccably dressed and unsmiling receptionist.
Me. “Bonjour Madame. Avez vous un chamber s’il vous plaîit”?
She (in German). “Good afternoon. Let me see if this is possible”. The pigeon holes behind her were full of keys and I was probably the first customer and, for all I knew, maybe the only one checking in that evening.
Me. “Sorry about the confusion m’dear. I’m not German. Can we try English, French or (showing off) perhaps Spanish?”
She. (in English). “Aha! Your French was so vicked I should av known you are anglais”.
Me. (going on the defensive). “Oui Madame. Je suis English. Does that mean I cannot have a bloody room?”
She. “Non, monsieur. Of course you can. Vas for a bloody chamber will you accept?”
Me. (attempting restrained good manners). “Let’s agree on something Miss. I promise to speak only English if you promise to speak in French, which I do understand and speak a little – however vicked it may sound to you. (Enunciating slowly) “Could I please have room with a view of the castle?”
She (in English) “The castle is not to be seen from the room I am to give to you.”
I accepted. By then if she had offered me the broom cupboard under the stairs and next to the lift shaft and I would have accepted. I don’t know why it is but all my life I have never been able to master my awe of the French female. It must have been something I heard as a school boy, listening to the older boys lying about their erotic holidays in France. Even the female French lavatory attendants manage to make me feel inferior.
Madame gave me, somewhat reluctantly I thought, a registration form to complete and stood up from behind the desk to reach for a room key. Below her uniform jacket she was wearing an ankle length white apron. Aha! I thought; so much for her superiority. She also has duties to perform other than just as snooty receptionist.
Rather than going directly to my room, I went through to an empty cocktail lounge. I needed something strong to restore my self-confidence. There was no one behind the bar but I did not have to wait long. My deduction was correct; the receptionist was also the bar-tender. I managed to get a Pernod without any trouble – or a smile –although I had the feeling she was just waiting for me to pronounce the ‘d’.
For conversation, God knows why, I tried the weather, Mitterand, Bardot, Le Pen and Juliet Greco but to no avail, although I did detect a half-smile – or was it as sneer – when I mentioned the channel tunnel. I ordered a second Perno’. Whether this was a refusal to give in or an attempt to impress, I was not sure. Neither worked, so I paid the bill and over-tipped. She remained unimpressed. I sauntered out of the lounge with as much dignity as I could muster but even with my back to her I was conscious of her eyes making a critical judgement on my brown, ten year old Harris Tweed jacket.
When I came downstairs for dinner, the lounge bar was full and I was pleased to see that it was a barman on duty. He was chatting with a couple in what I took to be the local dialect. He looked a simple soul and I was cheered with the thought that there would be no linguistic misunderstandings with him. To be on the safe side I ordered a Campari. I would have preferred a biere but I could not remember if one pronounced the ‘e’. I took my time over the aperitif, at last feeling relaxed in the comfortable lounge, with its pungent aroma of French tobacco and strong cafe. I was looking forward to my dinner.
On finishing my drink I headed for the dining room, located at the end of the bar. Passing through the double glass doors my progress was curtailed by Madame, the receptionist cum barmaid and now cum waitress. To me it was if she had appeared with the specific purpose of checking further progress on my part. I noticed she was still wearing her uniform jacket and the long apron. I had at least changed into my six year old – charcoal grey – only slightly shiny – Marks & Sparks suit.
Don’t be intimidated, I cautioned myself. She’s only a waitress. She can’t harm you – physically that is.
“Bon soir Madame”. I greeted her with all the charm I could muster; foolishly forgetting my promise to only speak English.
“Good evening Mister”. She replied. Also contravening her part of the agreement. “A place for you I do not have.”
She’d done it again! I was instantly dumbstruck. Given more time I would have had a dozen glib retorts but just when one clever quip was need. “Well I am rather hungry,” was the best I could manage.
“Oh! Monsieur! You vish to eat. I think all anglais only vish to drink.” Even with this insincere, half apology she seemed to be implying that I preferred alcohol to food and sex.
I was placed at a table near the kitchen door. The menu was extensive and I ordered correctly, only marring it when I asked for the rogons blanc d’agneau as my main course.
“Monsieur would like the rogons blanc?” She questioned, loud enough to be heard by the other diners.
“Yes! That will be perfect, thank you.” I acknowledged, raising my voice a little. Just bring me the sodding, lamb’s balls. This to myself.
I had ordered escargot for starters and a half bottle of Cote de Rhone without a French lesson, although I was tempted to ask for a bottle of Bo Jolly and I thought I detected a thaw in Madame’s demeanour. It was when she brought me a plate in preparation for the lamb’s whatsits. She stood over me, her arms crossed, clutching the plate against her ample bosom. An original way of warming the plate, I thought. It was then I noticed that for the first time she was smiling.
“In the summer I go to Blackpool, where I shall learn besser Eeenglish”. She informed me.
“Blackpool”. I echoed . My heart at last warming to the lass. “That’s my part of England.”
“Yes Blackpool!” She repeated. “Where the Irish peoples try to blow up Madame Thatcher. Pooff!” Almost dropping my plate in a demonstration of unrestrained joy.
My heart sank. “You mean Brighton.” I corrected and could not help showing my disappointment. “But that’s in the south.”
The intimate moment and the smile disappeared and I was left in peace to enjoy my solitary meal. I ordered a second half bottle and had no trouble in selecting the Camember’ from the excellent cheese trolley. Admittedly I drank more that I should have but only then did I feel confident enough to request, l’addition, s’il vouz plaît.
Bringing my bill, she remained; looking over my shoulder as I counted out the necessary Francs and it seemed to me she was hoping I would not have sufficient to cover the account. After satisfying herself that the notes, including an over generous tip, were not counterfeit, she remarked that, of the few Anglais who had stayed at the hotel, (I could now understand why) none had ever requested the rogons blanc.
“Do zey not ave testicules in Eeengland?” She queried
“In the north of England where I come from Luv,” I hastened to correct her. “we thrive on this type of grub. Yes. We like our testicles, our tripe cold with vinegar, we love liver and trotters and we even put mint sauce on our roast lamb.” She stared at me in disbelief as I continued. “And I may add, we play bloody good rugby!” I was unable to resist the chance of wounding her as only the previous week we had thrashed the French buggers.
“Qui, Monsieur.” She acknowledged. “Vous anglais are like ze Rambo, tres masochistic.”
I am inclined to believe her.
I O story 2011
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