Category Archives: French Blog

Année sabbatique

Année sabbatique

‘Un parfait inconnu’ (a perfect stranger) has just ‘porté plainte’ (filed a complaint) regarding my blog. The essence of their ‘mécontentement’ (dissatisfaction) is that there hasn’t been one for ‘un peu plus d’un an’ (just over a year). Je suis autant flattée qu’énervée (I am equally flattered and annoyed). It can’t possibly ‘faire un an’ (be a year) since I last ‘posté sur mon blog’ (posted to my blog) I mutter as I ‘consulte mon site web’ (visit my website). ‘ Mais c’est juste!’ (But it’s true!) I appear to have taken an ‘année sabbatique’ (sabbatical year) from my sabbatical.

‘Depuis quand’ (since when) did my ‘vie de nomade’ (nomadic life) spent half in France, half in the UK, become so ‘chargée’ (busy) that I stopped ‘mettre par écrit’ (committing to paper) the ‘temps forts’ (highlights)? And was it just due to ‘me surmener’ (running myself ragged) back and forth across the channel that my monologues ‘s’épuisaient’ (dried up)? I used to post ‘tous les mois’ (every month). My last post was due in November 2015 ‘à peu près au moment des’ (at around the time of) the Paris attacks. ‘D’un coup’ (suddenly) je ne trouvais plus mes mots (I couldn’t find anything to say). At the same time, my involvement with teaching French to the ‘chercheurs d’asile’ (asylum seekers) in the next village became more ‘prenant’ (time-consuming), my daughter’s Baccalaureat became ‘un défi de taille’ (a serious challenge) and my business ‘a doublé de taille’ (doubled in size). ‘Bref,’ (to cut a long story short) I had neither the time nor the heart to ‘me moquer de’ (mock) my week. But now it’s time to ‘reprendre le collier’ (get back in the saddle).

I don’t like ‘parler aux professeurs de ma fille’ (talking to my daughter’s teachers) in French : I still can’t express myself as fluently as in my ‘langue maternelle’ (mother tongue) and I want so much to ‘faire bonne impression’ (make a good impression) that I quickly become ‘muette’ (tongue-tied) and ‘maladroite’ (clumsy). ‘De plus’ (what’s more) this teacher had gone dangerously ‘hors-piste’ (off track) and was talking to me about the challenges of parenting in general and the fact that French children have ‘le mercredi après-midi’ (Wednesday afternoons) off school. ‘Mon nounou (rhymes with shoe) va chercher les enfants à l’école le mercredi’ (my Nanny picks the children up from school on Wednesdays) she explained. I tried to muster up an intelligent response “Which days of the week does your ‘nounours’ (rhymes with course and means teddy-bear!) pick up the children. She looked at me ‘d’un air perplexe’ then we both ‘éclations de rire’ (burst out laughing).

‘Il fait un froid de canard’ (It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey – or more politely – It’s freezing!). My night time routine consists of making ‘une tisane’ (herbal tea), ‘deux bouillottes’ (two hot water bottles), one for my feet and one to ‘serrer dans mes bras’ (cuddle), and ‘un pyjama thermolactyle’ (thermal pyjamas). This routine has been working ‘à merveille’ (wonderfully well) until I was woken up at 4 am the other day, my pyjama top (TOP!!!) ‘trempé’ (drenched) by a slow ‘fuite’ (leak) from the ‘bouillotte’. The morning’s antics are just as precisely planned – ‘J’allume’ (I switch on) the ‘lampe-torche’ (torch) on my mobile phone to find my slippers and avoid the ‘sol glacé’ (freezing-cold floor), switch on the ‘grille-pain’ (toaster) we call a radiator and slip back in to bed for a 20-minute ’somme’ (snooze) before it’s safe to ‘braver le froid’ (face the cold) and start the day.

La Manche et moi – Le prix d’un café

La Manche et Moi – Le prix d’un café

Public transport where I live ‘au fin fond de nulle part’ (in the back of beyond) is non-existant. The village train station closed ‘il y a des lustres’ (many moons ago) and the 150 inhabitants don’t ‘justifient’ (warrant) a bus service. I have no car at the moment, so my friends have kindly offered to chauffeur me until I can sort something out. ‘Des requêtes impromptues’ (impromptu requests) for lifts (de m’emmener en voiture) are no problem at all. In fact people have been knocking at my door to check that I have ‘fait les provisions’ (done the shopping)! But pinning them down to a particular day or time ‘voulu’ (of my choosing) becomes a ‘problème délicat’ (delicate issue). My train to England leaves at 7:45 am and ‘tout naturellement’ (understandably) this is viewed as the wrong time to ask for a lift. ‘Je suis obligée’ (I am forced to) hitch a lift with the English couple who already ferry my daughter to the bus-stop and I try to assuage ‘mes sentiments de culpabilité (my guilt) with the promise that I will return with Cadbury’s milk chocolate and Marmite (La Marmite est une marque de pâte à tartiner salée à base de levure, appréciée ou détestée, au Royaume-Uni mais inconnue en France www.wordreference.com ).

After a 5 am réveil (wake-up), and a frantic ‘course’ (race) with our wheelie suitcases (undoubtedly waking the entire village up anyway), we get our lift to the bus stop, then wait with the school kids for the public bus to the station.

The bus provokes ‘une débandade’ (a stampede) of suitcase-laden students, but a stern looking driver ‘les chasse’ (shooes them away) and ‘montre du doigt’ (points to) the bus behind. Before I can battle my way past them, the bus pulls off, and a ‘bus scolaire’ arrives, destination Gap – about 30 minutes further than Veynes, the station I want. Hysteria mounts as I have visions of missing my 4 train connections home. I plead with the driver to let me on – and more importantly let me off – at the desired stop. ‘Il opine du bonnet’ (he nods his head) reluctantly.

My first coffee of the day is from an (old-fashioned) ‘démodé’, almost (derelict) ‘délabré’ bar near the station. A ‘café crème’ sets me back a reasonable 2,20 €. ‘Un habitué’ (a regular) exclaims indignantly at the cost. ‘Ce n’est pas moi le patron’ (I’m not the boss) the bartender counters. After a 2 hour train journey to Grenoble, I have 10 minutes to ‘descendre’ (down) a ‘noisette’ at the bar (au zinc). ‘Installez-vous Madame! (Please sit down) the waiter offers, but I explain that I am ‘à la bourre’ (in a hurry). The thimble-sized cup of expresso with a tiny bit of steamed milk, also costs 2,20 €. On the train to Paris, an expresso in ‘la voiture-bar’ (the buffet car) is a shocking 3,75 €. But in the café in front of the Gare du Nord ‘je grimace’ (I wince) as I hand over 4,50 € for my final expresso of the day. And that’s it. ‘Je nage dans la caféine’ (I am caffeined up to the eyeballs) and all of my euros are gone.

‘Il se met à pleuvoir’ (it starts to rain) as soon as we emerge from the Channel Tunnel and after a twenty minute swim from Kings Cross St Pancras to Euston station, I order a filter coffee. It is handed to me in a receptacle the size of a small bucket ‘sceau’ and it tastes like ‘l’eau de mer’ (seawater), but at £2.50 it’s a hot, wet, hand-warming bargain which ‘je sirote’ (I nurse) all the way home.

For more information on how to order coffee in France, have a look at this great blog by  https://lingua.ly/blog/how-to-order-coffee-in-french/

La Manche et Moi – La culotte

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So we’ve had the Montagne, then the Métro, but why the Manche et moi? I am not begging (faire la manche) – nor am I living by the sea (la Manche = the Channel) – but as I am going to be cross-channel commuting ‘dans l’immédiat’ (for the time being), it seems like a title ’propice’ (fitting) for this chapter.

Leaving ‘Le Métro’ was not hard.  ‘Mon seul regret’ (My only regret) was ‘quitter mes amis’ (leaving my friends).  One lovely lady insisted on giving me a proper ‘pot de départ (send-off) with champagne, melon balls and other little ‘amuse-gueules’ (nibbles).  It was all delicious, apart from the slightly carbonated ‘pain grillé’ (toast) for the foie-gras which didn’t stop me from having a second, and perhaps even a third helping!  As we tried to enjoy our last moments together, the phone kept ringing.  ‘Gênée’ (embarrassed), my hostess promised that she would just ‘laisser sonner’ (let it ring) next time.  Within minutes it rang.  Then it rang again.  The third time, I begged her to answer it.  ‘A ce moment précis (just then), there was a loud ‘cognement’ (banging) at the door.  Her neighbours were ‘regroupés’ (huddled) outside, about to phone the ‘pompiers’ (fire brigade) as they had smelled ‘la fumée’ (smoke) – the toast!- and were concerned that she ’s’ était évanouie’ (had passed out) from the fumes – why else would she not answer the phone?!

I spent an increasingly stressful ‘quinzaine’ (fortnight) preparing for the move; painting, polyfillaing (mettre de l’enduit) and discovering the fine art of interpreting French electrical ‘normes’ (regulations).  Le jour-J (On D-Day), I frantically cleaned the floor of the house we were leaving with minutes to spare before  ‘confier’ (handing over) the keys to the ‘huissier’ (bailiff). I cleaned the floor ‘à genoux’ (on my knees), backwards from the front door towards the bathroom where I had a shower and changed in to some clean clothes.  One slight problem -my ‘culotte’ (knickers) were in a suitcase in the car!  I managed a fairly decent exit, but didn’t fancy a 12 hour drive practically ‘à poil’ (naked), so my last somewhat defiant act (acte de défi) in the sleepy suburban street where I did not belong, was to slip a pair of M&S’s ‘best’ on (une culotte de chez Marks & Spencers), hidden, ‘on l’espère’ (one hopes), by a rather full removal car.

My Kangoo and I moved to the Alps in two ‘étapes’ stages .  The first carload was full of my teenager’s essentials plus ‘ladite’ (said) teenager.  The second carload had my essentials plus the household items, the books, the furniture and three ‘jardinières’  (window boxes) of lavender.  Bringing lavender to the south of France is much like bringing coals to Newcastle, but as I drove the 700 km south, the scent ‘me poussait à avancer’ (spurred me on).

And now I am back in my little village in the mountains, preparing to ‘faire la navette’ (commute); a mere 2,800 km return once a month.  I dread to think what my ‘empreinte carbone’ (carbon footprint) will be by the end of the year.  And so I as I teeter ‘à cheval entre les deux pays’ (straddling the two countries) I ask myself if I can really ‘nager entre deux eaux’ (run with the hare, hunt with the hounds)?  ‘On verra’ (we’ll see).

La Montagne et Moi – Promenade de l’Arve

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Jessica reading her blog – in case you don’t know how to pronounce some of the words.

Depuis bien des années‘ (for many years) I’ve squeezed myself in to my ‘combinaison’ (ski-suit), and braved ridicule (you have to SHOUT your weight out in the ski shop so that they can ‘régler‘ (adjust) the skis), sarcastic ski-lift attendants “Et SI vous arrivez en haut de la piste RENTREZ CHEZ VOUS!” (IF you manage to get to the top of the slope GO HOME!) and the fear of certain death on anything more challenging than a blue slope. But I ‘enfin’ (finally) admitted that skiing, together with ‘les huitres’ (oysters), are simply elements of French culture that ‘ne me conviennent pas’ (don’t agree with me). And so this year, I accompanied my family ‘aux remontées mécaniques’ (skilifts) and then ‘je me suis évadée’ – I escaped!

On the first day, I had ‘aucune idée’ (no idea) where I was going. I bought an ‘hors de prix’ overpriced bottle of water at the café and set off on the empty road. ‘Un poteau indicateur’ (signpost) for La Promenade de l’Arve assured me that it was a 2-hour walk back to Chamonix. About half way down, ‘mes baskets’ (my sneakers) ‘me faisaient trop mal aux pieds’ (were hurting my feet too much) so I cheated and hopped on the bus home, where ‘je me suis écroulée’ (I collapsed in a heap) with a glass of rosé ‘bien mérité’ (well-deserved). ‘Le lendemain’ (the next day), ‘mieux équipée’ (better equipped) with sunscreen, a hat, ‘des chaussures de marche’ (walking shoes) and a picnic I took ‘le même chemin’ (the same path), all the way to the end in ‘2 heures pile’ (in 2 hours exactly!) I stopped to eat by a stream where ‘je me suis trempée les pieds’ (I dipped my feet). J’étais aux anges! (I was in seventh heaven)

Each day I ventured a little further up the valley, until ‘le dernier jour’ (the last day), I stopped at Vallorcine (vally of the bears) and climbed up to the Cascade de Bérard. I inched my way up a snow-covered ‘sentier’ (path), aware of my solitude and the sheer drop ‘précipice’ between me and the water below. The climb ‘valait la peine’ (was worth it). ‘ Un arc-en-ciel double‘ (a double rainbow) danced beneath the ‘cascade’ waterfall.

Spending our holiday apart, actually ‘a rapproché la famille’ (brought the family closer together). I was ‘zen’ (relaxed) and they had their ‘montée d’adrenaline ‘ (adrenaline rush) – and we actually had ‘des choses à se dire’ (things to say to each other) in the evening! Besides, with the money that I would have spent on a ‘forfait’ (ski-pass) we managed to ‘manger au resto’ (eat out) a couple of times, so no cooking and no washing up! Que demander de mieux? (What more could you ask for?)

Le Métro et Moi – Couscous

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As some of you know, I’m fairly ‘gourmande’ (fond of food), so long as I don’t have to cook it and I have just had a culinary experience which ‘a mis en fête mes papilles’ (tickled my taste-buds).

It all started on the Eurostar.  As I was trying to manoeuvre a highly embarrassing number of suitcases on to the train, ‘j’ai confié une mission à ma fille’ (I entrusted my daughter with a task); to claim our window seats from a French mother and daughter team who ‘les convoitaient’ (were lusting after them).  With all the grace of a diplomat ‘expérimentée’ (experienced), she confirmed that they were ‘en effet’ (indeed) our seats, but that the ladies were most welcome to take them.  The ladies, being most ‘courtoises’ (gracious) themselves, took their (proper) places ‘correctes’ and ‘nous nous sommes bien installées’ (we settled in) for the journey.  We quickly introduced ourselves ‘nous nous sommes vite présentées’ and by the time we arrived in Paris we had swapped ‘cartes de visite’ (business cards), ‘racontées nos vies’ (shared life stories) and ‘surtout’ (most importantly) we were ‘invitées à manger’ (invited for dinner) ‘le weekend d’après’ (the following weekend)!

We crossed Paris the following Sunday morning with ‘un narcisse en paquet cadeau’ (gift-wrapped narcissus), a bottle of wine ‘pour la cave’ (for the cellar), and ‘mon tricot’ (my knitting) as I had found a fellow ‘passionnée’ (enthusiast).  Our hosts had prepared an authentic couscous – not the boil, pour and stir variety that I know and love – but a proper hand-steamed-started-cooking-while-you-were-still-in-bed ‘délice’ (delight)‘Nous nous sommes régalées! (We had a real feast!)  Fatalement (inevitably – not fatally) it was our turn to invite them for a meal and ‘mon cœur sombrait à cette seule pensée’ (my heart sank at the prospect).  My cooking ability “n’a rien à voir avec le vôtre’ (is nothing like yours) I confessed to our hostess. “What about Fish and Chips?” she suggested.

To ‘contrebalancer’ (counter balance) my couscous and croissant lifestyle, I have recently taken on ‘un coach privé’ (a personal trainer).  We ‘échange’ a French lesson ‘contre’ (for) a ‘séance d’entrainement’ (workout) and I really feel that she has ‘la plus grosse part du gâteau’ (the better part of the bargain) – a particularly ‘pertinent’ (relevant) translation as we shall see…  She sips tea while I instruct her in ‘les mystères’ (the mysteries) of the French language; then the following hour she hovers with a stop-watch while I stagger about on various combinations of ‘membres’ (limbs) before ‘m’écrouler’ (collapsing) in a heap ‘à ses pieds’ ( at her feet).  She had ‘l’audace’ (the gall) to suggest that I might want to stop treats for a while ‘pour retrouver ma ligne’ (to get back in shape.  Unfortunately her advice coincided with me having just made the biggest, pinkest birthday cake ever.  Chaque chose en son temps! (First things first!)

 

Le Métro et Moi – Une étrange tristesse…

My daughter is preparing her ‘brevet blanc’ (mock GCSEs the French take at 15). With just two days to go, we desperately try to ‘déchiffrer’ (decipher) the ‘Théorème de Thalès’, the ‘passé simple’ (past historic) and the finer points of ‘la citoyenneté française’ (French citizenship) with the frenzy of WWII ‘décodeurs de code’ (code breakers). The impending exam has prompted yet another ‘frénésie d’achats de fournitures‘ (frenzied stationery spree) and I can’t believe we’re on our third ‘compas’ (compass) of the year. I dread to think where – and how – we will find the others!

‘J’ai un choix à faire’. (I have a choice to make). I can ‘rester chez moi au chaud’ (stay at home in the warm), or go to Paris for a free ‘conférence’. ‘J’hésite’ (hesitate), but finally I jump on the bus to the nearest RER station. The bus ‘conducteur’ (driver) kindly tells me that there are no trains today. A member of staff on the RER A, ‘la plus fréquentée d’Europe’ (the busiest in Europe), ‘s’est fait agresser’ (has been attacked) and his colleagues ‘se sont spontanément mis en grève’ (have spontaneously decided to go on strike). I consider ‘descendre au prochain arrêt’ (getting off at the next stop), but ‘une fois que je me suis décidée à faire quelque chose’ (once my mind’s made up’) I can be stupidly ‘têtue’ (stubborn). Two trains, a métro, an RER and two hours later I arrive at the Cité Universitaire.

‘Il y a 23 ans’ (23 years ago), I lived here, in the Maison Franco-Britannique for my exchange year. ‘Des souvenirs floux’ (hazy memories) of climbing ‘par la fenêtre’ (through the window) on to the balcony ‘pour fumer en cachette’ (for a sneaky smoke), of ‘cafards’ (cockroaches) in the kitchen and the frustration of phoning England from ‘une cabine a pièces’ (pay-phone) in the corridor opposite the concierge. I enjoy the ‘ateliers’ (workshops) and pick up some ‘astuces’ (tricks) for my lessons. During the lunch hour ‘je file à l’anglaise’ ( I sneak out furtively) to the Parc Montsouris opposite. My feet carry me along familiar ‘sentiers’ (paths) through the rain to ‘mon coin préféré’ (my favourite spot). ‘Des gouttes de pluie’ (raindrops) drip through the ferns and trouble the water at the bottom of the little ‘cascade’ (waterfall) and a carp swims in endless gentle circles. Je suis imprégnée d’une étrange tristesse (I am filled with a strange sadness) for the beauty of this moment ‘qui ne peut durer’ (that cannot last) and so I film it on my mobile and put it in ‘ma poche’ (my pocket) for later.

 

Click on the link below ‘parc montsouris’ to see ‘mon coin préféré’ (my favourite spot)!

parc montsouris

Le Métro et moi: Je suis Charlie, je suis juif, je suis flic et je suis musulman.

When our teachers get their ‘propre’ (own) facebook page, I always ask them to be ‘politiquement correct’ (PC), not to publish ‘des photos compromettantes’ (embarrassing pictures) of themselves doing a ‘défi du seau d’eau glacée’ (ice-bucket challenge) in (tight shorts) ‘caleçon moulant’ … ‘et ainsi de suite’ (and so on). But the week’s events here in Paris ‘ont touché (have affected) everyone in France and it would seem ‘inconcevable’ (unthinkable) not to mention them in my blog.

I’ve quoted Antoine de Caune’s variation of #JesuisCharlie because I feel that it ‘représente au mieux’ (best represents) the 17 victims of the attacks. I would have liked to ‘présenter mes hommages’ (pay my respects) to the victims and their families on Sunday, but ‘je dois avouer’ (I must confess) that I did not join the 3.7 million who marched together ‘dans toute la France’ (across France). Not ‘par peur’ (out of fear) – although I would have been frightened. Not ‘par indifférence’ (out of apathy) – as I would have felt honoured to ‘jouer un rôle dans’ (play a part in) such a positive national outpouring of solidarity. I stayed at home due to an ‘engagement antérieur importante’ (important prior engagement). ‘D’autant plus’ (all the more) reason for me to talk about it.

And everyone is talking. Everyone ‘prend position’ (is taking a stand) not just against the attacks, but for ‘ce que ça veut dire’ (what it means) to have ‘la liberté d’expression’ (freedom of speech). They are talking about what a terrorist is and isn’t. What saying ‘Je suis Charlie’ means. Why you should and shouldn’t ‘afficher’ (post) on your Facebook page. Whether ‘les médias’ (the media) is reporting on ‘les événements’ (the events) fairly. Debates, ‘hommages’ tributes, accusations ‘se muliplient’ (abound).

And ‘l’essentiel’ (the most important thing) is that ‘on se parle’ (we are talking to each other). As ‘Reporters sans Frontières’ (Reporters without borders) said ‘Ils ont voulu nous réduire au silence. Ils n’auront obtenu qu’une minute’ (They wanted to silence us. They only got one minute.)

Le Métro et moi

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The ‘raison d’être’ (purpose) of Le Métro et moi, is that despite years of learning and teaching French, I’m still frequently ‘déconcertée’ (stumped) by French words, phrases and sometimes ‘comportement’ (behaviour).  Written with ‘un soupcon’ (a dash) of ‘humour anglais’ (English sense of humour) I offer ‘un aperçu’ (an insight) in to my nearly Parisian experience, as I discover life in the ‘banlieu Parisienne’ (Parisian suburbs).

Le Métro et moi: Versailles & cake.

La cuisinière est enfin arrivée!’ (The cooker has finally arrived!), but ‘les livreurs’ (the delivery-men) were unable to connect it to the gas supply as it was not ‘conforme’ (up to current standards)As it is a ‘cusinière mixte’ with one electric and 3 gas rings, I now have a rather expensive second ‘plaque’ on which to cook my pasta and sauce – but a fully working ‘four’ (oven)!

Tried to buy the ingredients for a strawberry sponge cake for a birthday, but were stumped on what double-cream was called in French (crème fraîche épaisse).  Asked a sweet little old lady who admonished that it was ‘bon pour prendre les kilos’ (good for getting fat) but failed to find it in the dairy ‘rayon’ (aisle).  So we bought a ‘moelleux au chocolat’ (runny in the middle chocolate cake) instead.

Despite visiting the gardens of the Château de Versailles often, I have never braved the tourists who gather ‘en colimaçon’ (in a spiral) in front of the gates.   But I recently bought ‘un abonnement annuel’ (a yearly pass) that provides unlimited access for you and ‘un invité’ (a guest).  I waved ‘ladite’ (said) magic card in front of the security guard and he escorted me and my guests past four hours of ‘touristes deconcertées’(bewildered) straight to the front.  ‘On en a pour son argent’! (Worth every penny!).

Once inside the Château, there are no more queue privileges and the one for the toilets was almost as long as the one we’d just jumped.  Forget the ‘Galerie des Glaces’ (Hall of Mirrors) – we headed straight for the ladies’, then managed a whistle-stop tour‘une visite éclair’ of the royal chambers before  joining the lunch queue.  We were in such a hurry that we missed Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom ’carrément’ (altogether)!  As the visit is strictly ‘en sens unique’ (one-way) we had to get ‘talkie-walkie’ (walkie-talkie!!!!!) permission to squeeze back ‘rouge de honte’ (red-faced) past the same ‘foule’ (crowd) that we’d just jumped.

Having visited Versailles several times now, I’m beginning to feel quite ‘chez moi’ (at home) and I’ve started to get  frequent urges to perform (citizen’s arrests) ‘appréhender l’auteur et le conduire devant l’officier de police judiciaire le plus proche’on tourists who ‘carressent’ (stroke) the gold-leafed doors, touch the ‘tableaux’ (painting) and casually ‘s’appuient contre’ (lean on) the furniture.  Quel culot! (The cheek of it!).

Talking about cake and Versailles in the same post, I simply have to bring up the ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!’ (Let them eat cake!) quote.  But did she actually say it or was it all ‘mensonges’(lies)?

Find out by visiting www.history.com.

 

 

Le Métro et moi: Douvres

Le Métro et moi – week 6

Published 13th October in England, 14th October in France.

I’m ‘à la bourre’ (in a rush), trying to get to the ferry ‘à l’heure’(on time) to get my car to England ‘à temps’ (in time) to ‘passer le contrôle technique’ (pass its MOT). I absent-mindedly type ‘Douvres’ (Dover) in to the ‘Tom-Tom’ (Sat Nav) and frown as it shows a 4 and a half hour journey. Surely it’s only a 3 and a half hour drive from Paris to the coast? I throw the useless thing on the floor of the car and peer out of the misty windows instead.

I try to join a busy main road at an awkward angle and have to put on the ‘feux de détresse’ (hazard lights), jump out of the car and clean my ‘vitres embués’ (steamed-up windows) to see what’s coming. The ‘conducteur’ (driver) behind me is not impressed. It’s the first time that a ‘conduite à droite’ (right-hand drive car) has let me down over here – otherwise ‘je me’en sors tant bien que mal’ (I muddle along quite nicely).

‘À mi-chemin’ (half way) I stop to check the time of my ferry and the horrible realisation dawns that I have made the booking fromDouvres (Dover – the one in England) to Calais – instead of the other way around. I consider telling ‘personne’ (no one), not even my ‘prôches’ (nearest and dearest) about this ‘bêtise géographique’ (geographical stupidity) for fear of being ‘internée’ (committed).

I manage to rebook the ferry on my ‘portable’ (mobile) and get to the port just in time to be behind two ‘camions’ (lorries), ‘faisant marche arrière’ (reversing) towards me down the dual carriageway. On go the ‘feux de détresse’ again. Suddenly I see a van approaching me ‘à toute allure’ (on the speedy side), so I put out my hand and signal for it to ‘ralentir’ (slow down). A team of ‘gendarmes’ (policemen) jump out of the POLICE van and I feel a complete ‘crétine’ (twit) yet again. I’m going to ‘rater’ (miss) my ferry I say meekly, so they order the lorries to move aside and let me through in a most charming manner.

As the white ‘falaises’ of Dover come in to view, I realise that the ‘contretemps’ (hiccup) with the ferry booking is symptomatic of ‘une confusion plus profonde’ (a deeper confusion). I no longer know which country is home! But then, as the rain starts to pour and the M25 clogs up with Friday night traffic, I’m already dreaming of the deserted A16. One thing is for sure – ‘L’herbe est toujours plus verte dans le pré du voisin’ (The grass is always greener on the other side!).