Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Night Before the Journey Home

And so we draw inexorably to the end of the holiday. And we still don’t know who won Wimbledon or the World Cup. And because I misjudged the distance between the port of Calais and the coastal village of St Efflam, tomorrow morning we have to get up at 4 o’clock to ensure we have enough time to rendezvous with our ferry at 4.55pm, allowing for extra check-in time in these days of heightened paranoia about illegal terrorists trying to enter Britain and live on the dole. And because I’m sure I can remember from my English lessons at school that you should never begin a sentence with ‘and’, even though it happens a lot in the bible, and I’m feeling a little rebellious, every sentence in this paragraph begins with the word.

My use of French has moved through three distinct stages during the course of this holiday. It began with excessive worry about my lack of vocabulary and fear that it would be one long fortnight of misunderstandings, embarrassments and nightmare scenarios involving the local Gendarme and irate farmers. However, within a few days I was walking tall, feeling proud of my achievements at buying croissants, ordering coffee and putting my credit card pin-number into the payment machine at the supermarche, following the French instructions. Stage three has only really occurred in the past few days when I’ve realised that it would enrich my life if I was able to ask, and understand the reply to, what kind of fish was being sold at the poissonerie and what’s the best wine to buy for under a fiver. Alas I may never know what that white stuff that tasted a bit like cod actually was and may remain forever convinced that French wine is overrated while Australian is infinitely better.

I won’t grieve the dribble of water in a space the size of a shoebox that was laughingly called a shower, and I’ll be pleased to return to a toilet roll holder that isn’t spring loaded and liable to propel your paper to the far corner of the room right at the point of most need. However, I will miss the boulangeries with their freshly baked croissants and 400 types of bread, and the markets with their locally produced food and array of colourful stalls, while the kids will most certainly pine for the crêpes.

But I think one of the greatest things about this holiday has been the reminder that there is a whole world out there beyond the shores. Of course I know it on an intellectual level, but really I’m just as guilty of the Island Mentality I accuse my countrymen of. It’s too easy to believe that the rest of the world speaks English and views the world the way I do, and it’s too easy to forget the wonderful diversity in language, culture and outlook that exists in the human race. And sometimes you just have to step outside of your own country to truly realise it.

16 comments:

Attila The Mom said...

That last paragraph is so true. I just love the way you put it into words.

Kate said...

I agree with Atilla :-) It's a shame more people don't visit different countries in the way you and your family did. You see and learn so much more than you ever could on a package tour.

"Alas I may never know what that white stuff that tasted a bit like cod actually was"

Well, I hope you find out and tell me so that I can avoid buying any LOL

SheBah said...

Lovely post, Kim, travel puts all our local worries in a different perspective - and you've made me want to revisit France soon!

Nikki said...

Well said Kim.

My stay in Germany (3 years) was quite an eye opener.

I loved it. It really made me open my eyes to the way other cultures live and view the world.

I think many of us (American) don't get the opportunity, considering there's only Mexico and Canada on our borders and a bit to far away for most of us to travel.

I'm glad your holliday was a good one.

Thanks for taking us along.

Kim Ayres said...

Atilla - thank you :)

Kate - I had a French-English dictionary in my pocket most of the time. Unfortunately it didn't cover fish :(

Shebah - I can't wait to go back myself!

Nikki - thanks for coming :)

SafeTinspector said...

I'm going to go on imagining foreign environs as being physical manifestation of their stereotypes, thank you very much.
Its easier that way for those of us wearing golden handcuffs.

....although there is a chance I'll be visiting the UK next year....

restaurant gal said...

Happy to have just come across your "ramblings." I love the way you describe the quirkiness of where you stayed and what you'll miss the most from your vacation.

As for wine--I, too, love a vintage from Down Under.

--The Gal

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - it certainly takes a lot less time and effort that way, it's true.

So if you want to make sure you fit in when you visit the UK, then make sure you wear a bowler hat and a pin-striped suit, and say things like "tickity boo". You might want to study Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins for an authentic English accent too.

However, if you are coming up to Scotland then make sure you wear a kilt and study the intonations of Scotty from Star Trek or Willie the Groundskeeper from the Simpsons if you want to be thought of as a native. Eat nothing but haggis, porridge and shortbread, and drink whisky by the pint.

Trust me, you'll blend in completely...

Restaurant Gal - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment :)

100percent said...

Hmmm... I write to you from a small town in Ireland, which has only very recently exploded in to multi-culturism due to mass immigration from China/Nigeria/Eastern Europe over the last 5 years or so. I think it's possible to explore some of the wonderful diversity in language, culture and outlook of far-distant lands by merely eating out, standing in a bus queue, talking to people in shops or with whom I do business of any kind. As it happens, I don't have a family to take care of so myself & partner can travel as widely & often as work/dog will allow. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I suspect that in many countries it may be possible to get a flavour of different cultures etc much closer to your own doorstep.
I read your very well written blog almost every day and certainly missed it (you?!) when you were on your hols. However, judging by the comments thus far, I'm beginning to wonder if most of your readers are from the other side of the pond and thus have travelled far less widely than your average European these days????! Am I being too patronising??!

SafeTinspector said...

Kim, but then I'd have to take off my cowboy hat, leave my pickup truck behind, and stop shooting my gun at ever' damn one of y'all.

RC said...

whew! That's early in the morning for sure!

and soon you'll get to use a real shower, toilet, etc. YAY!

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

AntToeKnee said...

If you want to spend time in England practise disappointment. We English actively seek disappointment (see world cup 2006). Essentially we test ourselves with ever greater levels of disappointment to see at which point we begin to start to complain. Just how much grease laden, bacteria infested, month old veg can we endure before we actually admit to the waiter that actually everything isn't 'fine' and that could he pass on a death threat to the chief.

That and rain. Get to like rain. Better still get to expect rain even o the glorious 35 degree blue sky days.

Kim Ayres said...

100percent - welcome to my ramblings, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I think you're right about there being opportunities to expore diversity on our doorsteps that often gets forgotten about.

I've never done a census of my regular commenters, but I do have quite a few from North America, it's true, although I think many of them are more widely travelled than the average US citizen

SafeTinspector - go for the combination look then - kilt, bowler hat and six-shooter. You could start an entirely new fashion...

RC - welcome to my ramblings and thanks for commenting. I've actually been back for 2 weeks now - these were written while I was away but didn't have access to the Internet. But I have really appreciated having a good shower and a stable toilet roll holder since we got home :)

AntToeKnee - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for commenting. You're right, we're very good at complaining, just not to the right people. We'll tell everyone what lousy service we recieved, except the person or company that gave it to us.


Well this is quite amazing - to have 4 new commenters on one post. Must be something of a record. Of course the real test is whether anyone comes back again I guess :)

Welcome to you all!

SafeTinspector said...

Kim, don't forget cod-piece and mullet. Oooh, and great big belt buckle. Perhaps I could make a combination belt-buckle and cod-piece.

AntToeKnee said...

I'll admit I neve took much notice in French lessons at school - except for staring at Samantha Archers tits which I don't think was actually part of the syllabus. This is something I've regretted ever since; speaking slowly and loudly in English is really no substitute for proper language skills. I also regret the lack of opportunities regarding Samanthas tits but there was probably little the education system could have done to help me there.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - ok,now you've lost me. Are you talking about American or British fashions now?

AntToeKnee - This is why they should introduce language lessons in primary schools, before puberty hits. Not only is the child's brain development at a better stage for learning other languages, it's not distracted by hormones