17 May 2008

Ferry pleasant trip

We'll be on a ferry in a couple of weeks, headed for Zeebrugge. Then it's a four hour drive through a bit of Belgium and half of France. My ten days' holiday a year begin!

My parents bought essentially an uninhabitable shell of stone and slate 11 years ago. It was in a beautiful area of France - which is a beautiful country wherever you go - but it required serious work. This was the pet project which would take up my ever-resourceful parents' holiday time and provide somewhere to spend most or even all of the year once they had retired.

It is just the most fantastic place now. In a hamlet near Limoges, it is a three bedroom stone cottage of tranquility, beauty and authentic Frenchness. It is fairly close to a small town named La Souterraine, which has the supermarket and restaurants one needs when holidaying in France, but otherwise it's very easy to wake up in the cottage, potter about all day, eat, drink, read, sunbathe, watch a spot of TV and go back to sleep again.

It's unbelievably quiet too. Social activity in France consists of longer lunches and early evening dining, so by 11pm everywhere is closing and everyone is heading home. Only the very biggest cities have a post-midnight existence. Therefore while tiny villages and hamlets in the UK can still be woken by taxis and mildly inebriated people staggering back from the pub, in France you can hear the blood rushing around your head for as long as you're awake.

I adore France. I'm not an experienced traveller, as I have previously admitted, but I could happily head across the Channel every year for the rest of my life. It irks me when I hear of the usual prejudices from Franco-sceptics in Britain - "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" is a quite horrible phrase.

People find it hard to imagine why I like France, given that I don't drink wine and don't eat cheese. But it's not just about the food - it's the culture, the climate, the laid-back nature, the language, the general way of life. I think we're lucky to have such a fine country right on our doorstep.

One thing, however, that does irritate me about France are the predominant type of English person who goes there, and even lives there full time. They don't learn the language - even rudimentary terms like asking for the bill they don't bother to swot up. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you should always endeavour to show respect to your hosts by making their job easier, not expecting them to make yours easier. They're French and in France - why should they be fluent in English?

My mother is fluent and I scrape by on a good A level and a genuine interest in the language. When I hear supposedly successful people talking to teenage waiters in VERY LOUD VOICES and then muttering obscenities about them afterwards I get most angry.

I'm looking forward to the trip and the ten days of utter relaxation and good food. I don't need a beach and I don't need late bars to enjoy myself on holiday any more.


Mark X said...

The antiFrancophonetic (now I'm sure that isn't a word) Brits abroad is especially ironic when you notice it's generally the same type of people who tut loudly into their newspapers about how "them Poles (or similar migrant worker de jour) coming over here, not bothering to learn our language or respect our customs".

I'll get down from my potential mass generalisation petard, now.

Mondo said...

I had a week just outside Fruges (Nord-Pas-de-Calais region) a few years ago, and what a treat. Completely rural with no concessions to tourism or English speakers. I really should do it again.

Belgium is also well worth a visit if you just want a quick hop across the Channel - the food, drink and architecture are gorgeous