‘Ah Provence’ I thought to myself driving my Renault Clio (hire car) down vistas of lavender, past cyclists and olive groves. Sunglasses on, Phil Collins on the radio (and driving slightly too fast) I felt very French. This first outing was on a Sunday and as I meandered into the nearest town, Peymeinade, most of the shops were shuttered up. There were a couple open in the centre and as I pulled over I spotted a little cafe which a delightful array of people seated on the tables outside. Determined to keep up my French facade I took a
table in the sun and ordered a coca-cola in my best french accent. I kind of wished that I liked coffee or smoked or wasn’t driving so I could have a beer in one of those slim, trendy European glasses.
Sipping my coke and writing in my notebook I summons the bill and attempted to pay the waiter, here my French let me down, he spoke in French, not a length but quite quickly, gesturing to a man sitting in the restaurant. I nodded as if in understanding, assuming that instead of paying the waiter for some reason I needed to pay the man in the corner – the owner perhaps? I didn’t really hurry, gathering my things together and making my way into the room. The man I was fast approaching didn’t look much like an owner, he wore a tatty red t-shirt and jeans, he was drinking coffee and had two baguettes resting on his table. I handed him the bill the waiter had given me and a 10 Euro note, which he refused to take. My French is pretty limited, I get by but when a confusion occurs I find it difficult to solve it with speech. I tried to explain it was for the coke and asked if he spoke English, which he didn’t. I cast a desperate look at the waiter who avoided my gaze, and I suddenly realised what had happened. The odd man had paid for my drink in some kind of misdirected romantic gesture. The realisation hit me quite painfully and I managed to resist the urge to either run or disintegrate just long enough to say ‘merci boucoup’. The man was clearly disappointed that the language barrier buffered his advances and, sadly, I had somewhere to be. Running for my Clio, no longer harbouring idyllic ideas of French village life, I decided that an unchaperoned English girl needed to stay at a safe distance from men of a certain age and inclination or perhaps public from places in general.
What a first day…