Before I ever departed for my year abroad, I resolved that as a result of my time spent away in France I would undoubtedly morph into a sophisticated, allure- abundant woman. I even considered taking up smoking so I could look more the part. Tragically, eight months later, absolutely sod all seems to have changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly learnt a lot: for instance, don’t ask a Frenchman why he’s walking strangely as the answer might not simply be that he got stomped on the night before but that he in fact has a physical disability, such as bow legs. And yes, that did actually happen to me. In short the lessons I’ve learnt would preferably have been learnt in another, less awkward way but apparently that’s just not the way I roll. So in this article I plan to enlighten you on the various things I’ve discovered during my months abroad.
So what has France taught me?
- When in a nightclub it’s best to keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked. Or in my case: keep your limbs close to your body. On one occasion I was dancing away when a man crept up behind me and pressed a bullet vibrator (which was vibrating like there was no tomorrow needless to say) against my wrist. Did he really expect me to turn around and snog his sweaty face off due to sheer arousal?
- When dealing with small children always make sure you’re certain of their gender before you start throwing around errant pronouns. Sure I know Salomé is a girl’s name…but if you’d seen this child you too would have dubbed her a boy: short hair, boy’s clothes, slightly deeper voice and played with other boys – therefore a boy, n’est-ce pas? No, Harriet, no. Turns out little girls object very much to being told they are in fact not a girl.
- Be careful when picking your boyfriend. Assuredly a hunky 6ft 2 chappy seems an absolutely brilliant prospect at the outset, but when one is a mere 5ft 1 and considered by many to be 16 at first glance, such a pairing can provoke unwanted stares from judging old ladies. More than once did people look at Franck and me, thinking that he was a dirty man who had just abducted a small child…
- When dealing with a flirtatious Frenchman never underestimate their persistency. If you tell them you have a boyfriend back home they simply state, “So? He is your English boyfriend, I will be your French Boyfriend” and if you already have a French boyfriend they merely shrug and suggest that they would surely be a better match for you. Fidelity is just not an option for many men, particularly among the West Indian population, some of whom wouldn’t know what monogamy was if it slapped them in the face.
- Having stated the above I must also add that one also must never underestimate the power of being English. Speak English loudly in a public place and I guarantee you’ve already pulled. Maybe this wouldn’t work in gay Paris where English is rife but in the small town where I was stationed, we were an exotic rare breed. We even got chatted up coming back from the gym – and let me tell you, ‘post-workout’ is not my most erotic look. Sadly all these types were either old or unattractive and despite what some of my friends think, I do in fact have standards. Apparently attractive men in Niort are as rare as a Durham local covering up on a night out.
- When on holiday in Morocco, always give very serious thought to your wardrobe. What might be conventional on North Road is not always acceptable in a souk in Fez. Apparently wearing a bodycon red skirt (ahh Topshop, how I love you) is a terrible faux-pas, attracting attention from all and sundry. Compared to the burka-clad women beside me I must have looked like the biggest harlot since Belle du Jour. Never in my life have I received so much attention. A favourite phrase of the men there was, “Nice eyes”…when they are walking behind you. Another classic was, “Looking for sex maybe?” With James Franco? Yes please. With you Sir? I think I’ll pass. Of course then there’s always the world famous, “Three hundred camels for you!” What in God’s name am I supposed to do with three hundred bloody camels?
So now I find myself back in England for a brief period before I return to Paris and it has become worryingly apparent how out of the loop I have become. People now talk about a program called “The Voice” – what is this program? Didn’t Hilary Duff once do a film under a similar name? And then the other day I referred to the Karshadinians instead of the Kardashians. What’s more I still don’t understand why Kim is famous… Disturbingly this ignorance suggests how like my mother I seem to be becoming. If Zac Efron stopped her in the street to ask her the time it would be as normal to her as the lady in M&S asking her if she wanted a bag with her purchases. I like to think that when I return to the second phase of my Year Abroad I will be infinitely wiser and more mature, but something tells me this is most unlikely. I still have the option of taking up smoking though…