For today’s story, you can thank new Twitter friend, Patricia Ruez Steele who asked me if I spoke French before coming to live here.


The truth is I never intended to live here, I was on my way elsewhere but that is another tale which will finally be told in my memoirs when they are written in French and English (working title Knitting With Eels).

In Nov 1990 when I arrived, I was living aboard my boat with a young man who vaunted himself as a fluent French speaker. As we were planning on taking up a job-offer in Egypt, I was mugging up on my Arabic. Falling off the Jeanneau Melody at Camaret-sur-mer, I was ill, hungry and very grateful to be alive, my hardy shipmate having retired below, sick, leaving me to cross the shipping lanes in the Channel all on my little own. The gas stove had thrown its hand in so we had no hot food or drinks. I was not a very happy bunny.


No worries. There was a café on the other side of the harbour and I shot off towards it, dragging my official interpreter with me. Breakfast! I had no idea how to say it in French but I needed it! Once inside my partner was struck dumb so, once again, I was left to sort it out myself. I dredged my mind for the few French words that stuck there and came up with Coffee and croissant.

“Café!” I announced triumphantly, then remembered “please” and added it with a flourish. The reply, I now know, was a series of questions but to me it was blubbulbulbulbulb?

Undaunted I threw both words at the poor woman.

What I wanted..
What I wanted..

“Café et croissants, s’il vous plait!” Nothing was going to keep me from my brekkie now. I had earned it, I was going to have it. Madame shot another babble at me so I glared at her and decided that repetition was the only answer. As long as I stuck to my guns, she’d have to realise I was hungry and needed coffee.

The poor woman approached me as if I were a large, dangerous dog, pushed me into a chair and backed off saying “Wait, stay, don’t move” while never taking her eyes off me. (See? Slavering Doberman treatment!)

Ten minutes later we had enormous bowls of white coffee and stupid amounts of fresh bread, butter and jam. That would do me, thank you!

This was the moment that my partner got suicidal. He pointed at the bread and said

“I thought you ordered croissant?”

I hit him over the head with the huge ashtray off the table and took a decision. No matter how long we were (or were not) staying in France, I’d have to learn the language myself!

6 thoughts on “Parlez-vous???

  1. I could speak French when I arrived… or thought I could 🙂 Best accent, first trip to the shops I placed my order, only to be met with, «Non, mais, vous êtes anglaise…. » So much for any illusions 🙂

      1. The daftest was the time the flight home for Christmas was delayed. I whiled away the hours chatting with a nice young man … in french of course… only to find he was from Manchester and as broadly spoken as me 🙂

  2. Yes, repetition… I don’t know about swear words. After all this time living in the UK swear words in my own language sound more serious to me than those in English. I’ve never known why but when I try to speak French I always feel as if were pretending to be posh…or affected. Terrible! (that can be in French accent) Merci!

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