One of the nicest things about France (apart from the cakes. And the absence of Katie Price. And boxes of wine for under six quid) is that you can go out for a coffee without someone else’s conversation intruding like a dog running all over your picnic blanket.
When the language being spoken around you isn’t your first, it’s a million times easier to tune out. Which is marvellous, if you’re sharing air space with one of those people whose conversation ‘tends to carry’ as my mum would euphemistically put it. By which of course, we mean: ‘has a voice like an oil drum being kicked around a skip.’
However, even more obstructive to my desire for quiet contemplation is my innate nosiness. Which means I simply cannot tune out when somebody nearby is talking about something fabulously scandalous or from whom I catch a snippet of something which, out of context, is utterly intriguing.
So, since living here I’ve been much more able to be alone with my own uninterrupted thoughts, but on the flip-side I’ve missed finding out what the woman in the nice coat drinking cappuccinos did next when she ‘came home and found David in my Marks and Spencer camisole. Like it was the most natural thing in the world.’
So it was a pleasant surprise when Christmas and New Year week came along and suddenly the white noise became discernible, entertaining soundbites again as town filled up with British tourists. Many of whom didn’t think they could be understood.
Girl 1 to Girl 2: ‘It’s dad’s dream to retire and open a tea shop in the country.’
Girl 2: ‘Really? How cute! ‘
Girl 1: ‘Imagine that, eh? And to think that at the moment he’s a prison governor…’
Woman (regarding chickens on a spit outside a local shop) to her companion: ‘I don’t want to sound narrow-minded, but the French are such a blood-thirsty race aren’t they?
Father to son: ‘She wouldn’t know what to do with it if it had a big red cross painted on it. D’you know what I’m saying?’
Woman, holding out an i-Phone to her partner: ‘How do I make a phone call on this Christing thing?’
Young boy: ‘I hate the French. And the Belgians’.
His mum: ‘I know. The Belgians can’t drive at all.’
Girl in her teens to her mate: ‘The French wear really bad clothes. Their shoes are like shoes disabled people wear.’
It is also highly interesting to note the reactions of the people listening to the madness coming out of the person telling whatever story you happen to be eavesdropping on. May I present the below conversation, overheard – honest to God – in a local bar by a friend of mine:
Man 1: ‘So, then I found out she was sleeping with her next-door neighbour.’
[Gasps of surprise]
Man 1 (getting into it): ‘So I thought I’d send a couple of the boys round. To beat him up, you know. Give him a good scare.’
[Nervous laughter. Oh. He isn't joking.]
Man 1 (oblivious to the fact that he is unnerving everyone): ‘I told them to go round to the house next door, tie him to a chair and give him a good slap, you know?’
[People nod, but of course they don’t know. Because clearly only mad people get other people beaten up]
Man 1 ( laughing): And can you believe it? They went to the wrong bloody neighbour! They beat up the guy that lived on the other side of my girlfriend! Ha ha ha! Hilarious!’
[Coats are surreptitiously collected as the tale's irony fails to amuse all non-mentalist bystanders]
It can also work the other way. I have been caught out on more than one occasion, boldly holding-forth, believing that no one around me can understand what I am saying about their irritating child or lack of spacial awareness when indeed they very much can and very much find my opinions objectionable. Last week, me and my housemate, A had just been told we would have to wait an hour and a half in the garage reception whilst a Frenchman finished his cigarette and went for a long lunch (probably) before being available to put a new fan belt on our car. As a result, this made A late for an appointment with her gynaecologist.
There was an old woman sharing our table reading a French book about dogs so A didn’t think twice about telling me she now, inconveniently, ‘had to call the hospital to reschedule getting my fanny poked at’ and effing and blinding heartily about the delay.
Which is why I nearly wet myself when the woman stood up five minutes later and said in the Queen’s English: ‘I do hope you get everything sorted out by the end of the day girls.’
Before wandering off to collect her Corsa.