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JAMIE'S RANDOM FRENCH RAILWAY PHOTOS


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curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.

my own French came from holidays, a crush on my first French teacher, and a grade 6 at o level mainly from my oral.

I got ssked if I'd ever travelled to France, and then what my gavourite town was.

I picked Cahors, the examiner was born there!

i can recommend buying and reading the Petit Nicolas books and Marcel Pagnol .

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I too learnt French from childhood holidays, and school of course. Since then I've had a couple of jobs where I needed it and what I had forgotten came back quite quickly. But I've always found that the French are pretty accommodating if your French is poor, provided you make the effort and speak well enough for them to at least get your drift. Woe betide if you speak English and expect them to understand though. Then its often a wall of silence - friends having found to their cost on several occasions!

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My own personal experience varies.

A lack of French is no problem with small shopkeepers, market traders and most french people who are willing to make allowances and try to help you be understood.

However, big companies and the tax people refuse point blank to speak any English, and will get quite aggressive and offer no help whatsoever. They will also profit if you misunderstand and end up over paying.

Compare with the UK where you need to "press 1 to speak English".

 

My own French is now pretty fluent...except if I get stopped by the police, when I have not.  one.  word.

And yes, it has worked.

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I first visited Paris in 1985. The metro was very interesting with some very old stock operating on the RER line to Robinson but even trying to speak French made no difference and the locals were all rude and unhelpful. My next visit was in 2001 and the RER line to Robinson had bright new trains and by trying to speak a little French the locals were all friendly and helpful, even telling me they were enjoying trying out their English on me! A few years later and I was on my way to Nice. Went to buy an RER ticket at Gare de Nord to get to Gare de Lyon and I started in hesitating French to ask for two singles. The lady behind the desk laughed and in perfect English said she thought it would be a better idea if I spoke English! It is amazing how that first visit gave me a completely different impression of Parisians. I can only think that either I was unlucky or their views of the English had changed over the years. 

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I was one of the worst French students in my year; my French teacher, who was a  neighbour, said to my mother 'It would be better for all if Brian concentrated on his Latin; after all, he's never likely to meet a Roman'

In 1976, however, my then-girlfriend announced that she'd found us a perfect holiday; picking grapes in Beaujolais. When I said 'but I don't speak French', she said that wasn't a problem, as she'd got 'O'-level French. Such a pity that the French didn't speak it... It very soon became obvious that I'd be doing most of the talking.

Fast-forward a few years, and I met the girl who I was to marry; she actually did speak French, so we spent a few months driving around France, and doing whatever we could in the way of casual work to earn our keep. All this gave me the confidence to try and speak to the natives.

Forward again to the beginning of the 1990s; we moved to Kent, when Lynne got a job with Eurotunnel. As she was amongst the first of the permanent staff, we would have all sorts of people coming to eat, again reinforcing my French. Come 1995, I was finally persuaded to apply to work at ET; though French was not obligatory at my level, it proved very useful. Eventually, I moved to work as a Crew Controller, where a knowledge of vernacular French and English was definitely essential. 

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Our local artisan cognac cognac producer is a lovely anglophile and whenever we go to replenish our supplies of essential internal antiseptic he regales us with stories about the estate. There is a towercabove the distillery with fabulous views over the vineyards. Apparently the grapecpickers used to sleep there. At this point he gives a wistful look and says that the English girls were 'so' enthusiastic.  His Cognac is superb and like cream. €24 a bottle for 20 yr old.

 

My French has certainly improved since moving here and I can even make phone calls without spending a fortnight plucking up courage. I still struggle at times but our friends and neighbours are very supportive and understanding.  What surprises me is how many long term expats have virtually no French.

 

Jamie

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Your last sentence chimed with me.

Lost count of the Brits I've helped in supermarkets etc who seem only to be able to grunt and point.

 

I also have a college friend in the Charente who bought years ago. And when we bought we discovered the houses were about 25 miles apart.

He has made no effort to learn any french.

He also employs only ex pats.

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43 minutes ago, JeffP said:

Your last sentence chimed with me.

 

Me too!

 I lived in France for about four and a half years, admittedly when I was a youngster (and therefore with a fairly agile brain!) and by the end, I could pass for someone from a different part of the country, which I was quite proud of but the numbers of ex-pat Brits would lived there far longer yet made no effort to speak the language, was an embarrassment.

Now that I have chosen to live in Greece and I’m a lot older with a much less agile brain, it’s bloomin hard work to try and speak the lingo here but I keep trying. However, there are still Brits here who can’t speak a word, disgraceful.

 I blame both our own history of conquering the world and American commercialisation, spreading the English language everywhere but honestly - it’s just polite to try and engage in the local language!

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2 hours ago, JeffP said:

Your last sentence chimed with me.

Lost count of the Brits I've helped in supermarkets etc who seem only to be able to grunt and point.

 

I also have a college friend in the Charente who bought years ago. And when we bought we discovered the houses were about 25 miles apart.

He has made no effort to learn any french.

He also employs only ex pats.

All very well until something goes wrong....Almost the last time I spoke French was when I collapsed at work (atrial fibrulation) and was admitted to Calais Hospital. I was very glad that I had persevered with French, as I didn't encounter any of the medical staff who seemed to speak English.

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A couple of years ago we took a long-awaited holiday in France, starting in Paris.  There, it seemed that nearly everyone avoided eye and verbal contact except in shops where people were remarkably helpful. On the last day of the holiday we were in Aigues Mortes in the Camargue and my wife was buying a skirt.  I mentioned in French to the young woman helping that I understood the French spoken in the south much better than I did in Paris.  She replied, "Mais ici, on parle."    But here, we SPEAK. 

 

I accomplished many "bucket list" items on that holiday including riding the TGV (from Paris to Lyon) and a bonus was a ride on the Chemin de Fer de Vivarais, hauled by a massive mallet through magnificent countryside.    In the 1950s, I was on an exchange program (Birmingham and Lyon schools) and we travelled to Newhaven and caught the night Channel packet to Dieppe.  The SNCF loco was a steamer and a couple of us went to the front of the train and I was shocked to find a glass door rather than a blanked-off corridor connection.  We saw the fireman on the tender pulling coal forward and then it was almost other-worldly when the firebox was opened and the fire reflected off the steam.   I wish I knew what class of engine it was but the tender was a low one.   Must watched for ages.  After Rouen, the sky lightened and watched the smoke draft across the Seine valley.    Happy memories. 

 

 

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"On the last day of the holiday we were in Aigues Mortes in the Camargue and my wife was buying a skirt.  I mentioned in French to the young woman helping that I understood the French spoken in the south much better than I did in Paris.  She replied, "Mais ici, on parle."    But here, we SPEAK".

 

Lasting memory for me was travelling down France with my parents around 1966.

My father, chatting to a man filling our tank with "essence", while I obtained drinking water, at a garage near Carcassonne, mentioned that he found people in the south of France friendlier than in the north.

The man replied: " Oui, leur visages sont grises comme leur ciel", ( yes, there faces are grey like their skies).

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