How to look like you speak French...

Kitchen table, rue Sorel, Saint-Flour, Cantal, France

Last night, in the extremely comfortable bed, I read and went to sleep late, what a luxury, then slept and woke up late. Ditto.

View from the bed if your eyes are open

Breakfast was natural yoghurt (as found in nature, I guess), and a cup of tea made with water boiled on the little gas stove and steeped in a lemon yellow teapot, while I hung my washing on a rack in the sitting room window (The bathroom is underneath the kitchen, the kitchen is underneath the bedroom, the bedroom is underneath the sitting room, the sitting room is underneath the second bedroom, which is connected to the ankle bone...). The little washing machine did a lovely job last night, but whereas the instructions suggested hanging washing OUT of the window, I was a bit shy and hung my knickers and jeans on the rack on the INSIDE of the opened window. Call me a spoilsport, but I didn’t really want my underwear to feature in tourist photos of quaint Saint-Flour washing hanging out of quaint upper floor windows.

Incidentally, there are lots of tourists here, but just about all of them are French. Here are some photos of quaint upper floor windows which a tourist might take...............

My evening meal last night ended up looking at me (trout) while I tried to eavesdrop on my neighbours to improve my francais, only to have relatively rare Pommie (British) tourists at the next table. Serves me right. The view from the restaurant in the Hotel d’Europe was fantastic- countryside a sleep-tossed bedspread of hills and fields, villages and tufts of woodlands.

Today I needed people. I began the day (at noon) by sitting at the Hotel de Ville with a glass of Rose so I could access the internet there. A delightful little dog said bonjour.

”Puce” likes having her derriere scratched and it makes her dance with her hind legs...”Puce” means “Flea”. I mentioned that I used to be a vet and her owners asked if she looked in good health. She’s overweight, but what could I say?...Yes, she looks in fine health....But she’s too fat, they said...What could I say? I don’t think they thought I was much of a vet.

I visited two museums and attached myself to a group in the Cathedral where the commentary and occasional banter between the dashing young male guide and fascinated middle-aged women was all in French. What a marvellous way to learn a language.

Apparently a lot of VERY interesting and amazing things have happened during its history, and can be seen in its architecture (including the asymmetry of the front), but I’m not entirely clear what they were.

I brought with me a bunch of books (I take after my daughters...not much clothing but a stack of books) including a visual dictionary which is ridiculously heavy, and a delightful book which I’d recommend if you are ever going to France, or have ever been to France, or have ever heard of France. It is called “Pardon My French” by Charles Timoney. In it he tells of all the things he would like to have known before he made the move from the UK to the country of Napoleon and Champagne and Parisian drivers.

He warns that when you sit down in a restaurant, the waiter will immediately ask if you’d like an apero- a drink. If you ask for water, as I did yesterday, he warns that the waiter will, as quick as a flash, ask whether you want it sparkling or still (gazeous ou non-gazeous) completely ignoring the possibility that you might want free tap water. Which was exactly what happened last night, and do you think I could remember how to ask for tap water in time? Before I could get my act together (“un caraffe de l’eau” is the answer ) he had slapped a Vittel mineral water and glass onto the table and had whisked off the lid. Damn!!!! Too quick....but I’ll be ready next time.

Charles also tells us that you can order a half (demi) baguette (baguette) in your boulangerie (bakery) if there’s only one of you to eat it, as whatever you can’t manage to eat if you get a whole baguette will be as hard as a rock the next day. So tonight I did just that, and it worked. Nobody batted an eye. I felt like a local.

The fruit and vegetable shop and chocolaterie are tempting............................................ ...........

and the cafe/bookshop where you can sip coffee ( but not decaffeinated = “deca”) or tea and browse through the books is very comfortable (cafe/librarie)

How to look like you speak French:

A lot of French sounds are made with the lips pursed forwards (reminiscent of wine-tasting) , even though the sound itself is made somewhere in the back of the throat, like halfway through a yawn. So, tuck the local paper under your arm, purse your lips slightly, tilt your head a bit to the right, add a mildly sardonic smile, shrug the shoulder on the same side while spreading the hands palms forwards, and you will have had a completely intelligible conversation. Today I managed to not buy some meat, to not buy a skirt, and to not wait for the next tour all in perfect French while barely uttering a sound. So far I have only tilted my head to the right, the consequence of having a slightly pinched nerve, so I make no guarantees about tilting to the left. (It is much as in India where a little wobble of the head immediately breaks down the barriers, indicating that neither party is flummoxed by what is being negotiated and all will be sorted out, however the wobble is to the left and to the right so covers both directions)

If uttering a greeting, start at a relatively high pitch, and singsong your way down. BONjour madam flows downwards in three or four steps. If you are being friendly, or if you’re a shopkeeper with high hopes for this particular customer, it’s four steps down; if a bit pushy or making a point (that skirt is obviously not your size), the “madam” is all on one note, a good hike below the “bonjour”.

Note: To sound even more authentic, blow slightly over your back teeth while talking, much like a balloon slowly deflating. “Oui” (“yes”) becomes more like “wheee”. It works a treat. “Merci” ( Thank you) trails off at the end with a little gust of wind. Particularly useful for seeming authentic if “Oui” and “Merci” are the only words in your vocabulary.

The two museums nearby contain paintings, crockery, coins, swords, jewellery, musical instruments, bonnets, icons, flints, furniture, and much more. It is always poignant to see objects which have outlived their owners. These, by centuries. At home I have a pair of scissors on which is inscribed, “Not to be removed from the Rectory”. They belonged to my mother’s father who was a minister in the Church. He is gone now, as is she, and all of the people to whom the scissors belonged, and all of the people who might have borrowed them. And the rectory. But in my hand I can hold those very scissors, still asking to be returned.

Here the oldest artefacts are from the first century A.D. And they are all local.

Apparently, as soon as people figured out how to forge iron, they made jewellery in order to be more beautiful, and swords and arrows and axes in order to kill each other. The earliest gun had beautiful decorative bone inlay...clearly not owned by someone who expected to get shot.

There were two bows- one a crossbow which needed a winch to pull it into firing position, the other used to make music on a five stringed instrument. I wonder which came first?

Little toy wild boar to give to your hunter friends.


And here’s the cat again, and some joyful “silverbeet” from the Tangled Garden in Nova Scotia because I left it out of the photos before.