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.