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U3A Writing: Brits In France

The words that Ray Harman learned in a University of the Third Age French group were useful when he visited La Belle France - up to une point.

I have just returned from a tour of the vine-growing,wine-making and very picturesque region of Alsace in N.E France. Needless to say, having attended our U3A conversational French group, I felt fully equipped for any situation that might arise and was ready for a golden opportunity to practice the language.

Our first “Passé La Nuit” was at a splendid luxurious hotel on the outskirts of Luxembourg with a room fit for a queen and, to my wife`s abundant joy, there were tea-making facilities in the room, a rarity indeed in continental hotels. The morning could not come quick enough to sample our first morning “Tasse De Thé'' on French soil. Alas, on springing out of bed and switching on the kettle, no light appeared and no buzz came from it. “O La La” a “Coupure De Courant” had occurred. There was no electricity. The “Petit Déjeuner” however was not affected thanks to an emergency supply. With some confidence I breezed into the “Salle A Manger” with a cheery “Bonjour” to the staff and in the hope of provoking a flurry of French added “Est-ce-que vous avez un problem ce matin” to which the waiter replied in perfect English “I apologise for any inconvenience sir. Would you prefer coffee or tea “

I accepted defeat gracefully, ordered coffee with a begrudging “Merci” and sat down to my hard roll and croissant.

The next hotel, our residence for the following three days, was at Colmar, the capital of Alsace, and although it dropped a few stars in terms of luxury, electricity was available for the morning breakfast The sight of the scrambled,”Oeufs” however did make one wonder whether the dreaded “Coupure de Courant” had indeed followed us down. Having fortified ourselves with a hard roll and croissant once again and acquiring a street map of the city, we set out to discover the delights of Colmar.

We had only just turned the corner from the hotel when we saw in front of us, lo and behold, the essential tourist transport of most major cities these days, namely “Le petit train”. It was just about to leave, and just two vacant seats remained. I sensed that an elderly German couple also had the same idea as us, but on a promise not to mention the “War” they graciously allowed us to take the seats..

The ride was indeed a bone-shaker along the cobbled streets of old Colmar, with reckless turns to left and right bringing screams of delight from “Les enfants” in the back, whilst their large obese “Pères” chatted furiously in French too rapid for me to understand, panning their their hand-held video cameras “De gauche à droite” with great rapidity and dexterity. I could only sit there and feel the deepest sympathy for their friends and relations who would be subjected to an evening's viewing of a “Voyage en train” in old Colmar.

Our teeth-chattering trip over, we decided to retrace our train journey “À Pied” at a leisurely pace and admire a very beautiful and picturesque city with the most colourful flower displays in every direction one looked. However,the cobble stones began to take their toll and I felt the need to sit on the very next park bench that came my way. Another elderly French gentleman also felt the need and sat down beside me with that sideways glance of recognition of “Les Anglais” though I had not opened my mouth. I thought to myself `Shall I or Shan't I' and why not! This is my last day. I tentively opened with”Vous etes ici en vacance monsieur.” He appeared startled that a Brit should actually be trying to speak his language, but he smiled gently and replied “Non,non, j`habit ici, c`est ma ville mais je me regrette que je ne parle pas Anglais.''

“Formidable,” I thought and proceeded to ask his opinion on the Euro, the European Constitution, etc., until my vocabulary started to run out, and my colleagues in the U3A French group were not on hand to help. I realized I was sinking fast...

It was at this point that I nudged my wife and suggested that we continue our shopping, although we had nothing to buy. With an “Au Revoir” from me and a “Bon Voyage” from him, I went on my merry way with confidence restored, returning to Angleterre the following day.

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