French, English Take Bats, Balls, Go Home

I wouldn’t say we’re stranded in Dunkerque, but apparently we’re one of the first who wouldn’t say that. I love it here. Butters even more so. It’s got a beach.

Dunkerque was the place to which the English retreated as the Germans cruised through Belgium and into France. They didn’t tell the French they were going – guess they thought they’d whistle as they left and shut the door quietly. But the French had the same idea, and instead of evacuating 45,000 troops, as the English thought they were, in 4 days, they evacuated over 300,000 in 9 days. Perfect weather conditions for it – it was a feat. Of running off. The beach is so flat that they had to use vehicles as jetties. Dunkerque was almost completely obliterated during the War, and internet write ups say that it – the town, the people – have struggled to recover from the stigma; their buildings are new, compared with so much of the rest of France, I guess, and even though it is a cherub town on top of a flat, long-seeing beach, it’s got little self confidence. It was the place from which the English were evacuated, on Navy ships and any small fishing vessel that they could charter, when the French surrendered. (Can I say cheese eating surrender monkeys here?) I don’t think the French look kindly upon a lack of self confidence, in general, so they leave all of theirs in Dunkerque.

(Aside: Fitter. More relaxed. I forget how the Radiohead thing goes. But I am. Less crazy. Will post about health exploits.)

So that means we’re in France. In a Fiat Punto, which I now will defend with my life. It is cute and efficient, even if deformed and backward. Butters can drive, but he can’t drive a manual with confidence, having only learned a bit, in my Father’s farm Ute, about a year ago, and only in paddocks and up rocky, 90 degree dirt hills. I learned to drive on the right side of the road the day before yesterday. He could, but it’s not really worth the additional difficulty, for either of us. So I drove from Germany to France yesterday. My nerves have not yet recovered from being in a state of perpetual high alert, punctuated by moments of real, guts searing ‘the-lion-is-crouching-and-wiggling-its-bum-at-us’ alarm. Doing everything the opposite, in a car (apart from driving in reverse gear) is like being given a soft serve ice-cream, and being asked to consume it through your nose, while on fire. It’s weird, at times painful, often embarrassing and you’re doing it all very quickly. Actually – that was the cool bit: getting to drive at 130kph, instead of 110.

At one point, I pulled over to a shopping centre and had a panic attack, slapping Butters in the chest when he told me to stop it. After five minutes’ driving around the car park, trying to find somewhere to legally turn to get in to one of the thousand free spaces I could see, put the car in neutral, handbrake on, opened the door, and stumbled out as if drunk, toward the large steel and ad-blazoned monolith that I am used to (living in Wantirna).

I waddled in, through the comforting, automatic doors, sat down at a Paul’s and had a chocolate éclair, even though it wasn’t a responsible diet choice, and asked for a cappuccino in French. I know how to say one, cappuccino, please, thank you. Butters is the gifted interlocutor in this land, thank you very much.

(Aside: it’s a mixed bag, ordering and receiving coffee in France. You never know how they’ll interpret your order. At Paul’s, short on the milk and latte froth. And bitter. At a road stop, a shot of espresso and no milk. It’s better than in Germany: the coffee there is terrible, and they order it like that, as in, just ‘ein ‘koffee’. No variants. And yet, as Rowan tells us, the Germans are the biggest consumers of coffee worldwide. I once had a coffee in Dahn that tasted like washing up water laced with cyanide, and a dash of goat’s milk.)

Then, reconciled with wide eyed spouse and caffeine balanced again, I went to the first clothes shop I saw, and found the best clothes ever – I cute grey and floral dress, black shorts and a pastel striped tee shirt. They all fit right, and I bought them.

That being possibly one of my best experiences in a clothes shop, ever.

France. You were different than I thought you were going to be. I like you.

Then, getting back on the road, I had my first French road rage experience. I lingered for a little longer than I should have in the left lane while overtaking a truck (being Australian, and not European, I tend to give cars more than half a meter of personal space), and a BMW (that’s like saying, ‘a Holden Commodore’, on Australian roads) smooshed up behind me from nowhere (literally – I couldn’t see him when I overtook at all), and blared the horn. I pulled back over, and he gave me the finger. I reciprocated. He pulled in front of me and slowed down dramatically. I blared my horn at him, and then used two fingers. He sped off.

Butters (after telling me off) said that nothing would have pissed off a Frenchman more than a driver in a German registered, Italian car, giving an English two-fingered salute. So I’m satisfied.

We were as excited as a couple of mice finding a cheese factory all their own, when we went across the checking station and saw the Euro sign with ‘France’ written on it. Gosh did we squeak. Just before we arrived, I noticed the trees change, from German to French. I don’t know species, so it’s hard to describe, but they changed from uniform to bunchy, and some became thinner and more like those I think of as stereotypically Scandinavian (probably because of IKEA, let’s face it). The houses were cousins of the German handsome concrete blocks with sharp tiled rooves, but they were more delicate, made from reds and with fringes of black, always with a pointed spire in the middle of the town.

I didn’t think I’d ever get used to the idea of cruising down the side of the road that they usually only show on shaky helicopter police videos, but I found myself easing into it.

Now, when we cross the channel to England, I’ll be driving on the left side of the road, but the driver’s seat will be on the left, also. I’m gonna have so many new neural pathways now my brain will physically expand.

I’ll add some more to this post, about driving, perhaps, at a later date. We’re off to the beach. Everything is grey.

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5 thoughts on “French, English Take Bats, Balls, Go Home

  1. phildange

    You’re funny . The French surrendered in Dunkerque, but what did the Brits ? Any better fight against the Blitz Krieg ? I’m always amazed how Britain and its American subculture can always forget this detail .
    And in France if you want milk with your coffee you just ask . If you want a black coffe you just ask . You know, the thing we do with our mouth . It’s a thing humans tend to do everywhere, as far as I could see, but maybe it’s too much for an Anglophone . .

    Reply
    1. beccaanne Post author

      Ha, Phildange,

      Hmm. Well, I believe I said that the English left, and then the French left, too. Not sure I said either was good or bad. I don’t think I said the French surrendered – although they did. Cheese eating surrender monkeys is just an awesome term. And they did surrender. It’s an affectionate term, though, but I guess you’re French (I presume), so perhaps you didn’t get it? 😀
      Asking for a cappuccino – with my mouth – would be fine in any place who knew what it was. Like Italy. Or Australia (where I’m from, actually, not England). And I didn’t complain about it – I said it was a mixed bag, which it is, but I keep ordering it, because I don’t mind.

      I loved my time in France, and I’ll be back.

      Reply
  2. phildange

    Well, cappucini are not a well loved thing in France, as far as I know, it was a alien or snobbish thing for most French not long ago, and I can admit them to be different from place to place . Coffee with milk, “café au lait”, is different, it’s not a cappucino . It’ sone of the two traditional forms of coffee in France, Spain, Portugal and Maghreb, the other being black coffee, real coffee . I guess that’s what you got many times . But when in France, cappucino is not the kind of food to look for, just like McDonalds .
    Now you say you do joke, but a universal joke of which the origin is in an extremely coarse exhibit of nastiness and ignorance triggered by the fierce animals in Washington, in order to divert their people from the fact they were starting a war justified by pure lies to their citizens, a joke so often used by the heaviest Anglo-Saxon ignorant of everything from the present and the past, I find it difficult to hear again .
    In WWII, the Germans had created a brand new way of making war, with massive tanks forces and massive airplanes bombings ( the BlitzKrieg ), and NOBODY was able to counter it at the beginning . The British army was blown away together with the French, and Churchill said that the only difference between France and Britain was the Channel . USSR couldn’t do anything either, and the Germans reached Moscow suburb – from the Soviet border to Moscow there’s a longer way than the whole France -, until the infamous Russian winter came to th rescue . UK was saved by the sea, and USSR by its wideness and its winter .
    After that, the Allies got more time to develop a proper ripost . And about the “French cowardice”, you must not know that 100 000 French soldiers were killed in the small month of the Battle of France, added to 100 000 civilians . When you think that in 4 years of war, in the Pacific, North Africa and Europe, the US lost 500 000 men as a whole, you can measure the bravery of the French soldiers led by an outdated tactics and technology .
    All this, as well as Churchill’s quote, are unheard by the Anglo web for mental teen-agers, while the apocryfal General Patton’s quote which was spread from Fox News about French divisions is known by everyone ( even by you ? ) . It takes efforts to do personal researches, and I’m gutted by all the insults towards a people who’s been able to vicoriously fight alone against all kingdoms of Europe to protect his ideals from 1792 until Napoleon’s grasp of power . By the way, all military terms in many languages including yours are French . Have you an idea why ?
    OK I drop it . I only wrote all that stuff because you seem a good guy, and I don’t like good guys being sunk by the colossal flood of bestiality coming from America .

    Reply
    1. beccaanne Post author

      Hmm. I think that, if cappuccino was not served in France, it wouldn’t be on the menu. Which it was. End of story. (But I guess you would say that they’re just doing that to appease the Americans? Who, in this case, are actually Australian? I eat what’s on the menu, because I respect the country I’m eating in.)

      And in terms of the war. I didn’t say the French were cowardly. You read that into what I said, and you’re obviously a little sensitive about it. No one has to read from an American perspective to know that the French surrendered. As I said, the English left as well. I would have, as well, perhaps. But then, the Australians didn’t surrender. Australians went to a continent they weren’t under threat from and died along with the Allies. Lots of people died. It’s sad and terrible. No one won, no one acted all ‘well’ or all ‘not well’. They just acted.

      I’m writing a travel blog, and all my comments were true, and opinion. I’d suggest you go and spend some time in Aus, then read it with fresh eyes. Everything I said was either complimentary, or lighthearted.

      And you do eat a lot of cheese.

      Reply
  3. phildange

    Not me, I hate cheese . About cappucino, it’s not a French tradition, and everyone does it in his way, I reckon they can be very various . The French are not good for that, very few average French people order a cappucino . After all, what they call croissant in America is pretty surprising too . If you spent some time with French folks, gone out with them you should have noticed what kind of coffee they order . A coffee is a black coffee, that’s all . A minotiry ask for a “café au lait” and that’s it . Out of tourists, the only people I’ve seen ordering a cappucino were chicks, or ladies, and only in evenings out .
    When I travel, I always make local friends, and see how they do, trying to think as they think And err …the Australians had to go to war because the Japanese wanted their land with the whole Pacific, and Asia until Undia . You speak like the US Walt Disney’s children . From what I know, the USA went to war because they’ve been attacked by the Japs, and threatened by Germany and Japan in the goal of world domination .
    I spent several periods with Aussies, during my travels . All gentle fellows, but they were bagpacking Australians, the best kind I think . But because of your language and your lack of history you can’t help but being under American “cultural” influence in your global ideas on the world, and on France apparently . .
    And I find that sad, that’s why I try to say some things sometimes .

    Reply

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