Marigold barely uttered a word of complaint in the hour and ten minutes it took us to find a café that was open for business. When they say it is the end of the season around here they really mean it.
What would probably be termed a road side diner in other countries was open and almost as pleased to see us as we were to be fed and watered.
We were in a French supermarket the other day trying to find an ‘adapteur’ to connect one of our English plugs to a French socket. Yes, of course we took some with us, probably a dozen of them at least, but I’d forensically reduced the car to its component parts and still couldn’t find one anywhere.
Unfortunately, locating one in a big French hypermarket was proving equally fractious. Marigold’s whoops of triumph when she finally struck gold may have been heard in the next town. We were on our way to the till area when we were accosted by two (obviously British) women waving their arms excitedly. When it became apparent we were fellow Brits they looked relieved.
‘Finally, someone who isn’t foreign’ one declared. Hmm! There are rather a lot of French people in here, but we’ve only come across two ‘foreigners’ apart from ourselves and we’re talking to them now.
What burning issue of the day demands our attention, I wonder. Brexit, climate change, can it be true that John Bercow has really gone, what will it be?
The answer is a massive let down. ‘Have you tried any of these French ready meals?’
The question is presented in a manner suggesting the future of mankind depends on our answer. We glance at the selection of meals merely requiring a microwave oven to be transformed into a gourmet feast. We don’t tend to shop in this aisle, but managed to say so in a resolutely non judgemental fashion.
‘Only, we’ve got guests arriving at the weekend and they’re dedicated foodies. Do you think I can make this look homemade?’ The stouter lady, it’s a close call but I’m still trying to be non judgemental, holds up a cardboard box promising the consumer all manner of delights.
I look at the photograph on the box and decide this is a question worthy of Marigold’s attention. I wander off as if my presence is urgently required in the tinned preserves aisle.
As incurable hodophiles we often go ‘abroad’ and many of the Brits we meet on our travels come across as a breed apart. I can make allowance for holidaymakers; they’re usually focussed on spending one or two weeks trying to get as bronzed as possible in the shortest time.
Yes, their version of ‘bronzed’ would be three pages removed from ‘tan,’ way out there next to fire engine red, in a Dulux paint colour chart, but they always seem happy enough with the result.
The Brits who offend us, mightily, are expats. Namely the ‘we live here’ brigade. Now, we’ve been part of that group over many years and a vast number of our fellow long stayers have been wonderful people so please don’t imagine I’m venting out of simple residual grumpiness.
Simply put there are many Brits scattered across Europe in particular with whom we have no common ground other than a shared country of birth. If I met these people in England I would avoid them so why imagine I should have the slightest interest in their lives merely because they’re ‘British?’
A case in point.
We were sitting in the lobby of a French budget hotel the other evening, simply because there were two armchairs near Reception and only a bed in our room, no chairs. Catching up with emails after a few days on the road can be a fraught process. Friends/relatives/fans, (okay forget the last one), find it hard to accept access to the Internet can be patchy ‘on the road.’
Marigold is replying to her third ‘where are you, are you dead?’ email when a middle aged couple arrive at the front desk looking very annoyed. ‘Took me twenty minutes to find this hotel yet your information clearly states it is two minutes off the motorway’ the man bellowed at the receptionist.
I took notice as I had also followed the two minutes from the motorway directions. It took me two minutes!
The reception was a delightful young woman, originally from the Ukraine but married to a Frenchman, and we had been chatting earlier for quite a while. She spoke a little English, but as English was her fifth language we cut her some slack!
‘There’s no point in even talking to her,’ the shouty man’s wife said, ‘she’s only going to speak French, they don’t bother to learn English.’
The Receptionist did indeed speak fluent French. She was also fluent in her native language as well as Russian and Polish. When the woman started shouting I decided enough was enough.
‘What’s the problem?’ I asked, trying hard to be civil.
‘They want us to pay double, that’s the problem.’ I looked at the paperwork she was brandishing.
‘You’ve booked two rooms,’ I said.
‘Well, obviously that’s a mistake. I probably pressed the key twice when I booked online. Now this stupid girl expects us to pay for two rooms.’
I had a brief conversation, in my sadly inadequate French, with the Receptionist. She does not have the authority to cancel a booking as it was made through a third party site. I told Mr and Mrs Harvey the situation.
Mister Harvey was not easily pacified. ‘Now look here,’ he shouted, ‘and do not interrupt when I am speaking. I have lived in France for the best part of ten years so don’t imagine you can put one over on me. We booked a room with this hotel for tonight. I expect a key to that room at once and a refund for the other room.’
The Receptionist shrank back. ‘I cannot refund,’ she said, ‘not booked with hotel.’
‘See, she speaks English,’ Mrs Harvey snarled, ‘she’s just trying it on. We want our money back.’
Bitterly regretting my involvement I made further enquiries and passed on the information that a refund could only be obtained from the booking agency, not the hotel.
‘Oh, this is ridiculous, give us the keys to both rooms if we’re expected to pay for them.’
‘Well, you won’t get a refund from the agency if you use both rooms,’ Marigold piped up.
This sensible advice was not what they wanted to hear and it all kicked off again with the wretched Harvey couple bellowing abuse at all and sundry. ‘Foreigners ‘ was the term most in use, seemingly oblivious to the fact they were the only actual foreigners involved in the argument.
The next morning we were about to leave when we heard Mrs Harvey complaining, loudly, about ‘not even a rasher of bacon on offer’ in the 5 euro ‘Continental breakfast.’ We scarpered before they started demanding a copy of this morning’s Daily Mail.
Outside two van drivers were chatting prior to setting out on their day. One obviously French, the other speaking French in an evidently Eastern European accent. The subject under discussion was the wretched Harvey couple. I got the impression they hadn’t been impressed.
The Polish/Romanian/Bulgarian driver summed up his opinion of our fellow Brits with much arm waving. ‘Les Anglais, jank,’ he said. I used to have fairly regular contact with members of the gypsy community and the Romani word he used was familiar.
In English we’d probably substitute another four letter word, one starting with sh and ending in t.
Who needs the Brexit debate when so many of our our expat citizens are doing such a splendid job of offending the nationals of the country in which they’ve been allowed to remain?
We resolve to attempt to conceal our immigrant status for the rest of this trip.