“I think the thing that gets me is,” I slur, “The French thing.”
He blinks at this, so I elaborate on my thoughts. “I mean, I didn’t sort of realise about the French thing. I mean, I knew that there was some French, and all that, but didn’t think it was quite so important. I mean (again), I thought it was a bit like Cornwall, where a few people speak Cornish an’ all that, but nobody really does. If you see what I mean.”
He blinks at me again.
“I do recognise that is a reflection of my own ignorance rather than a particularly accurate state of affairs,” I concede, in the sort of tailing off fashion that one does in the circumstances.
“Yes,” he nods evenly. But you will notice that he didn’t say “oui,” – so I was right after all.
It is true, however, and is a shameful reflection of my lack of geopolitical nous. I should have been warned when I went to withdraw some money to find that First Direct was blocking my card because their fraud people were alarmed that it was being used outside Norfolk. Sometimes, however, I can be too honest for my own good and say unnecessary things that could just have well been left unsaid, going into too much detail when all it does is ruin people’s illusions of me.
“What has been the best thing about our great country?” he asked – or probably would have, had he been gallantly trying to change the subject but didn’t – me artificially inserting that line in order to provide a bridge between parts one and two of what were essentially separate conversations within the course of one evening in order to shoe-horn them into a single blog post.
I ponder this for a minute.
“Probably the attitude of breakfast-providers,” I conclude, praising the system of giving you a plate, pointing you towards lots of food and essentially leaving you to it, not charging you much at the end.
Warming to my subject, I try to explain the English way. “You see – you get a plate, and a tray, and a long counter with things drying out, and there is a sign up saying ‘four items, seven quid; six items, ten quid’, and you have to go and say exactly what items you want as you move along, and toast counts as an item and so does a baked bean, and then you take it to a till and the woman there peers hard at your items and counts them twice and pokes them around to ensure that you haven’t hidden an extra small rasher of bacon under the toast, and then you pay extra for your coffee, and then there is a man who stops you at the end and counts again, and checks in your pockets and fists you, fists you, to check for any more contraband fried items, before you’re allowed to go to a table and look miserably at your meagre, expensive plate and read a free Daily Mail.”
“Oh, and the mountains and stuff, and forests,” I add, catching his expression.
I enjoyed meeting a local person. That is my joy in going abroad – the little and interesting differences between places and how ordinary people live their lives. Later on, it transpires that us national representatives share an interest in British progressive rock music from 1973-1976, so the major language/breakfast differences etc. are forgotten.
There is more that unites us than divides us – English, Canadian, French-speaking, normal-speaking. We are all human beings, living together on this one globe, sharing the planet and our joys and frustrations, we are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.