Shortly after arriving back at Les Terraces I poked my head out of a window on the street side of the house to look at something when I spotted our next-door-neighbour, Michel. I called out “Bonjour, Michel!”, at which point he looked up, surprised to hear my voice. “Vous reviens!” he exclaimed (when I had left at the end of my previous trip I had said that, regrettably, I wouldn’t be back until August). I invited him up for a beer and to meet Graham. A few minutes later Michel, Graham & I, drinks in hand, were hanging over the wall of the terrace looking down into Michel & Anne-Marie’s stunning kitchen and caught Anne-Marie’s eye. She came up to join us for an “apero” and meet Graham – they had all 3 “met” via web-cam in March.
We were swiftly invited round for dinner a couple of nights later and I happily accepted. After Michel & Anne-Marie had returned to their house Graham eyed me dubiously. “Are you sure about this?”
“What?” said I.
“Dinner. They speak no English at all, and I just can’t speak French.” Graham sells himself short. He can, but he’s too shy to (“une grande pression, s’il vous plaît” being the phrase with which he is most comfortable). He understands a fair bit, though. Certainly more than I do.
“No problem!” say I. “We have a dictionary.” Graham now thinks that I am totally doolally. I can tell as he pours a healthy sized glass of red wine and looks at me quizically across it.
“Go to dinner with a dictionary?”
“Sure. Matter of survival. Only way we’re going to learn, and I’m damned if we’re going to spend our lives here living in “Dordogneshire” and mixing only with English speakers. This is the only way to do it,” I said adamantly.
So we did. Go to dinner with a dictionary, that is. I have to confess that I remember little of what we actually discussed, although Michel’s advice on how an application we need to make to the “architect de bâtiments de France” should be handled is firmly rooted in my head as, when I wasn’t listening intently to what our hosts were saying, I was trying desperately to form my next sentence in my head without completely massacring the language.
I’d like to say that my vocabulary is my weak spot and that’s why the dictionary was needed, but it isn’t. My French is terrible. I know the French word for it, though ….. excréable! I murder the conjugation of verbs. My grammar is awful and my sentence construction abominable. However, thus far we’ve managed to get what we have wanted and I’ve managed to make myself understood (I’ll tell you about trying to buy a drill another time!).
We did have a good giggle during the evening when Anne-Marie told us about a friend of theirs in the town who teaches French…….. “You really ought to take lessons,” said she to me in French and then realised the irony of what she was saying. The evening was wonderful, if exhausting. Anne-Marie served a fabulous meal that introduced us to some new foods (a cold boudin noir, served very lightly cooked and very moussy and a “contraband” goats cheese from Corsica) and spoilt us with some favourites (mi-cuit foie gras & entrecôte steak). Her home-made mayonnaise was the colour of sunshine and superb. Michel deemed her home-made strawberry sorbet too acid, but I thought was great.
My vocabulary was expandeded by just one word that has remained in my head since we left. I now know that French cows “meugler” where English-speaking cows “moo”. God knows how we got there! However, our lives were considerably enriched by the warmth of welcome we have received from our neighbours. And that’s why we moved to France.