Saturday, 15 June 2013

F is for Français


I am literally driving my whole house crazy with this song at the moment.  I love it.  I first heard it in Dead Man Down the other day and fell in love with it.  If you knew the English translation you'd love it even more.  That's not to say I'm fluent in French, au contraire, it just means that some lovely person searched for the English translation and posted it up on You Tube.  However, in English or French I hope you'll agree it is a beautiful song.  I have been singing it all day and when I say sing I mean that I have mumbled something that sounds nothing like the beautiful French language that is actually being sung. My French actually sounds very much like this...




That's not to say that I didn't learn French in school,  in fact I sat my French GCSE in 1997.  I won't tell you the grade I got, but suffice to say I'll never be mistaken for Edith Piaf.

My son is learning French at the moment, I can just about remember the days, months and colours of the rainbow, but that is probably about the extent of my French.  Now if you asked me do I have a pet in German, I could happily tell you this...

Ich habe einen wellensitich, sie ist gelb und weis, sie heist Snoopy... apologies for my appalling German spelling.

So what does that mean? Well it roughly translates to "I have a budgie, she is yellow and white, she is called Snoopy".  No it won't get me far in Deutschland, but for some reason it is just a phrase that has stuck in my head for the last 16 years. 

But back to France...

So where have I been in France?  The usual; Calais, Dunkerque, Bologne, Le Touquet, Lille and Paris.  Ah Paris, now there's a story for you...

When I was 19 my best friend and I travelled on a coach to the capital of France, full of hope and wonder, imagining that our days would be filled with sightseeing, French men, cigarettes and alcohol.  Well it kind of did have all that in it, but not exactly in the way you would imagine.

We arrived in Paris some time in the afternoon and checked in to our hotel.  We took a quick nap, woke up a few hours later and thought we'd spend our first night out in Paris in... wait for it... an Irish bar.  Having got some very sketchy directions from the concierge and after an hour of walking up and down the roads near our hotel, we went back mightily hacked off, hungry and rather thirsty as we just couldn't find the pub.  A change in the reception staff brought us new hope, so we asked the man behind the counter to suggest somewhere for us to go for a meal and that had some buzzing nightlife. 

Following his directions this time to the letter, we took the Metro in to town (with a few unsavoury characters) and made it to the area that he had suggested.  We looked in windows of the varying restaurants and finally picked one that our Francs could afford.  Delighted that we were finally sitting down, we set about deciding on what we wanted to drink and eat. Lighting up a cigarette we felt quite pleased with ourselves that we had managed to get to Paris and we were now enjoying the evening.

As the waiter came over my friend put on her best French accent ordered our food and a bottle of wine we recognised the name of.  We'd already roughly worked out the exchange rate and decided that it was within our price range.  The waiter took our order down and asked us if we were sure we wanted that particular bottle.  Thinking we might need to get our passports out to prove our ages, we told him yes and gave each other a rather confused look.  The waiter asked us again if we were really sure and we told him again, that yes we were.  

As he walked off my friend and I wondered what that was all about, but determined for it not to occupy our thoughts any longer we decided to sit back and take our surroundings in.  I commented to my friend that there were an awful lot of men in the restaurant and hardly any women.  We'd already been drawn in to the restaurant by a rather beautiful poster of a toned muscled man in the window, but even so we couldn't quite work out the ratio of men to women in the restaurant itself.  Not thinking anymore of it, the waiter came back  and with a huge flourish, smile and a laugh he placed a beautiful ornate floor standing wine cooler next to our table.  Before he uncorked the bottle he asked yet again were we really sure that this was the bottle of wine that we wanted.  Starting to get a little bit fed up at this point, we told him that "yes we were" and that "we drank it all the time at home".  He barked out a rather loud laugh in reply, drawing the attention of several other diners close by, but without further ado he uncorked the bottle and asked if one of us would like to try it. I can't remember which one of us did it, but I do remember that it wasn't exactly the most lady like of wine tasting you've ever seen in your life, but at this point we just wanted a glass of bubbly to wet our whistles.  The waiter then poured us both a glass after we'd given the go ahead and off he went laughing and slapping the backs of other several other diners at near by tables.  

The meal was delicious, we drank our wine, telling each other that we didn't think it tasted as nice as we remembered and after maybe an hour or so my friend decided that we should ask for the bill so that we could find another bar near by.  As we were waiting for the waiter to bring over our bill, I don't know which one of us realised first, or whose French kicked in the quickest, but we looked over at the poster that had drawn us in, this time ignoring the lothario on the front, and suddenly realised that the reason why there were so many men in the restaurant was because we were actually sitting in a hang out for gay men.  Looking around we now also realised that we were the only women left in the establishment too.  Not that my friend and I have anything against gay men you understand, but as young 19 year old girls we were looking for, how shall I put it nicely, a nice French man to snog... and we had no chance in this restaurant. However after several glasses we were three sheets to the wind and we found it absolutely hilarious. We made such a noise that the waiter came over to ask us if everything was OK.  We told him, I think at this point through tears of laughter, about our mistake and asked could he please hurry up with the bill.  "Of course" he said, but didn't we want to finish our bottle of wine that was only three quarters drunk?  "No" we said, "we'd just like the bill as soon as possible please".  Raising his eyes to the heavens off he scurried to chase up our bill and five minutes later he returned, put it down on the table and left us to it. 

Having given all my money to my friend to look after, she grabbed the receipt and looked at it.  What happened next still to this day makes me feel a little sick.  The blood literally drained from her face and she looked like she was going to vomit all of her lovely french food and wine on to the table in front of her.  "What's wrong?" I asked her starting to feel a little bit queasy myself at this point.  "Um," she said, "you know that bottle of wine we ordered?" "Yes," I said. "Well you know we said that we drank it all the time at home?" "Yes," I said. "Well we never have, because well, firstly we messed up the exchange rate and secondly we ordered a bottle of Don Perignon champagne that has cost us the best part of £100". 

Have you ever had that feeling where the floor feels like it is literally crumbling beneath you and everything around moves in slow motion and you feel like you're going to pass out or vomit or maybe even both?  Well that was just how I felt.  

Unbeknownst to us, the waiter had been watching the whole event unfold.  He came flying over to us and asked if everything was OK? At this point I don't think I was able to speak, so my friend took over. "Um there's been a bit of a mix up." "No there's no mix up here mademoiselle," he said practically puce from trying to stop himself from laughing.  Recovering from my moment of temporary paralysis, I asked my friend how much money we had on us.  Luckily we had a credit card and some cash between us and we managed to just about scrape the money together.  But by this point the whole of the restaurant knew of our 'mix up' and if it was male attention we were after that night, it was male attention that we got, only they were laughing at us. As we paid the final bill, the waiter still doubled up with laughter asked us what we wanted to do with the remainder of the bottle. Like the true ladies that we both were, we poured the remainder of the champagne into our glasses, downed it in one, my friend grabbed the bottle off of the table and we walked out of the restaurant empty bottle in hand.  This was going to be one very expensive souvenir if nothing else and we both made a pact to not have wee for at least an hour as there was no way this champagne was going straight down the u-bend.

I'd like to say that our night got better, only it didn't.  Completely skint, we decided to try and make our way to the nearest taxi rank.  On the way there, we went through probably one of the most frightening experience of our lives.  We were followed by a large group of men that no matter where we turned or what we did, they just wouldn't leave us alone.  I'm not sure when exactly my friend decided that enough was enough, but she suddenly turned, wielding the bottle of Don Perignon high above her head and said that if one of them took one step closer she would crack them over the head with it.  Whether they understood what she was saying I don't know, but I certainly wouldn't have messed with my friend at that very moment.  Luckily their visible surprise gave us enough of an opportunity to dart in to the nearest bar we could find and we finally managed to get away from them. We were practically in tears at this point, we begged the barmaid to call us a cab, but unfortunately she couldn't help us.  She did however point us in the direction of a line of people that were already waiting for a taxi by the side of the road a few streets away.  As we stood in line trying to calm down, wondering how on earth our night had turned out like this, an English couple asked if we were OK.  We explained what had happened to us and the lady told us that whilst were weren't inappropriately dressed it probably wasn't the best thing for us to be wearing short dresses and high heels in the middle of the red light district.  My friend and I were beside ourselves.

Luckily we didn't have long to wait for our taxi and as we sat in the back together feeling somewhat lucky to be in one piece, holding on for dear life as the taxi driver drove like a mad man through the streets of Paris, our thoughts suddenly turned to the little rat from the hotel that had sent us to the red light district.  Oh boy was he going to get it!  I'm not sure which one of us started laughing first after a moment or two, probably me as I do have a habit of laughing at the most inappropriate of times, but that was it, we literally couldn't stop ourselves.  We were in hysterics by the time we climbed out of the taxi, walked in to the hotel and got the lift up to our room.

When we woke in the morning, I think the cold light of day dawned upon us and we realised that because our first night in Paris had caused us to be £100 down, our sightseeing and dreams of sitting in a smoky Parisian bar drinking cognac and coffee, smoking French cigarettes was most probably now out of the question or at the very least had to be scaled back.  Luckily my Mum had made us a huge picnic for the journey that we managed to make last for the next 3 days and every morning we filled our handbags and pockets with ham, cheese and bread rolls from the continental breakfast buffet.  We did manage to visit Notre Dame, as it was free, but as for the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, we just looked at them from a far.  We got ripped off again by a street artist so we lost yet more money, but we did manage to find that Irish pub in the end, where each night we drowned our sorrows with a pint of Guinness or an Irish coffee or two.

Was it the experience we had hoped for? Not really.  But as the years have gone by, my friend and I have consoled ourselves with this thought... how many 19 year olds can honestly say that they have drunk Dom Perignon champagne in the heart of Gay Paris? 

Surely that's something to tick off the bucket list at the very least...



 A 19 year old me with my Dom Perignon

We found the Irish pub at last

8 comments:

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    Replies
    1. Thanks lovely lady. I've followed you back now too. xx

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