Je crois ...

As you while away the time, sat in the sunshine with a(nother) glass of wine, nibbling crisp french bread and making more mess than a three year old with a 'Make as Much Mess as You Can' kit - or perhaps driving down the long French roads wondering if this is what driving would be like in England after a neutron bomb had gone off - you think 'Hang on! That can't be right?'

Something isn't quite right! In fact it's so far not right it's left you completely bewildered. Well that's how I felt, anyway.

Un moment, s'il vous plait!

All those things I thought I knew about France, all those things I was told at school, just aren't true. It's all fiction. The teachers made it up to try to make it seem like the French were excitingly different and learning their language would be really cool. Like they used to give you those special comics instead of actual French comics that might have been actually funny and probably used the actual French that French children use rather than the stuff we had to learn.

For instance, the children don't go to school at 8am at all! I was told tney did. But they do go on Saturday mornings - and have Wednesdays off! And the French don't hate the English. Except for their politicians - they don't seem to like us. But then I'm not sure if our politicians actually like us, either.

Parisiennes are different, mind you. They're city folk anyway - haven't the time to listen let alone try to understand. They think that because they live in a capital the whole world revolves round them.

But everywhere else they're quite normal. Bit like us, really. And, as I said, it turns out that they quite like us. OK, in a chauvinistic sense, maybe. So they don't hate us at all. Well, they don't hate us the most, anyway.

As they say, 'At least you're not an Arab'. They really don't like Arabs!

But they do vie with us. They're not at ease with us shoulder to shoulder to them, sat just over the water. Especially as we once owned much of their country.

In fact the more I think about it, the more I reckon it's all a conspiracy begun on our fresh little minds at school. They're not that different from us at all! Or should I say not that different from what we used to be like when we used to stick up for ourselves and think we ran the world.

So there's the secret. They are what we secretly wish we were like. Proud of our country. And with the clocks turned back fourty years. Just like the Welsh - proud of their country, with their own language and culture and even parliament. And we hate them too!

Le plume de mon tante

As for the language! We're very proud of the English language. It is after all a polyglot of words from every country on the planet - isn't it? Well, actually, Maupassant once said as he returned from England after a holiday - "English - it is the same as French but spoken badly".

You see - over 60% of our words are French words. Scary? Think of all words ending in 'ion'. Station. Plantation. Vision. They're all identical in French and English. As are all words ending in ent, ant, el, al, ible, able. And so it goes. So why was French so difficult to learn at school?

And another thing - they've tried to make their language difficult for foreigners by giving everything a 'le' or a 'la' - a 'un' or a 'une'. We struggle through school trying to remember which is which - but they don't. They just say 'l' or 'n' really quickly.

Point scoring

I've decided not only to give myself a point whenever I actually get what I thought I ordered, or when the response looks in keeping with what I thought I said - but an extra point if I can fit into the sentence one of those French phrases we actually use in English.

I got 'C'est la vie!' in today. And 'de rigeur'. It's my 'forte'!

Double points are awarded if you use one of their most hated words - that is English words that they use and which are probably banned. Le weekend is a good one. Le best seller has sneaked in too. Even le shopping. And now 'le email' (now supposed to be 'le courriel'!) because email means enamelling apparently!

Gallic shrugs

Useful, I've decided, for padding out a response when you basically haven't a clue whether they just complimented your attempted witticism or warned you that a pair of copulating toads were about to ruin the shine on your shoes.

'Crapeau' I later discovered did indeed mean toad and so where I should have shrugged, instead what I did next was probably completely inappropriate. Though, judging by their increased laughter the words I actually used and the actions to which I set them probably unwittingly expanded on their main focus of attention.

Who put these here?

I'm driving the roads looking at the bocage - banked up lines of trees between the fields - that are their special hedges. As I view the pocket handkerchief sized fields I notice that some of these banks have not been maintained - the earth has slumped away leaving the outstretched tiptoes of their roots exposed.

In the war we (OK, and the Americans - they were there too) found it almost impossible to fight across the fields because of these high banks.

Reading about the war is pretty amazing. I know it was full of bravery but it was also jam packed full of stupidity and lack of knowledge. Fantastic planning, for instance, blown apart by not knowing about bocages!

Weird cows

This is a land of cheese and butter. Normandy does cows. They're all pretty but look utterly stoned. Great splodges of brown adorn their bodies and their faces. They look for all the world like you would if you were extremely large, drunk and only had hooves to put your eye make up on with.

They cheat!

The French have always kept their old ways. They take on the new but keep the old. Why can't we do that?

They still use the 'pound' for weighing - called la livre, for instance. It comes from the same roots as our word 'pound' - Libra - which we still abbreviate to an L for the pound sign. Look at the Euro sign and notice how it's almost exactly the same as a pound sign! La livre is used nowadays for half a kilo, roughly the same as an English pound. You see, we're not so different after all. Luv 'em!

Clever how they adopt the new - until you find they've fiddled it and kept the old, too. You have to admire them really.