Odds and Ends

Two Nations Divided by Un-Common Language

French Fancies in tricolor letters

Many years ago I accompanied a colleague on a working visit to France. My colleague had stayed at the same château before and he and the owner's wife would chat away like old friends.

Unfortunately their knowledge of the other's language was minimal so she would enquire if he had been working hard and he would respond by telling her the weather was nice. They seemed to enjoy this non-communication so I just let them get on with it.

Amongst the few French words that my colleague knew were the first few numbers. Unfortunately for some strange reason he gave the French short measure, if he meant 'seven' he would say 'six'.

One evening we returned a bit later than usual and our hostess offered to produce un sandwich. Obviously we needed to clean up a bit first so when would we want this bite?

Ten minutes would surely be enough and my colleague endeavoured to communicate this - "Neuf! Neuf!", he said.

Off trotted our ever helpful hostess and my colleague went upstairs for a quick wash and brush up. A few minutes later he was back from his room but the door to the kitchen remained firmly shut, of madame there was no trace. The minutes ticked by and became an hour, still no sign of food.

Then, on the stroke of nine, out shot our hostess, complete with plate and ham sandwich! Clearly she had decided that waiting nine minutes for a sandwich required far too much in the way of precision. Surely he meant 9 o'clock?

Recently we had the pleasure of providing accommodation for 'Annie-Q', a French girl who had been sent away to boarding school to 'improve her English'.

What foods did she like to eat? Something that is useful to know if someone is going to stay for a week. As she was not particularly forthcoming we suggested such French 'favourites' as snails and frog's legs. That broke the ice and raised a little laugh and got her to attempt a faltering reply as she struggled to find the English equivalent. "Mice?" She seemed to say hesitantly. Well it fitted with snails and frogs!

But of course she had reverted to French and really said, "Maïs?" Later we discovered that what she really liked was cold, (not warm!), tinned sweet corn. Like all of the French youngsters that we have seen she also liked the taste of chocolate, breakfasting on Nutella and Weetos.

composite of weetos and nutella
French Teenager's Ideal Breakfast

Mice? Chocolate? Chocolate Maïs, naturellement!

six chocolate mice labelled  Maïs

I like to provide some compensation along with the teasing!

Clearing out some old papers I was reminded that I have been doing this sort of thing for a long time. My first 'proper' job was in London and my landlady sometimes took in French girls during the summer months. I think that originally she had just helped out by taking the overflow from a school visit. Then one of the girls from the school trip, Katherine, had arranged to come back the following year, for le shopping.

Then the next year her sister Brigitte joined in. They lived in Saint -Germain-en-Laye. Their father was a boss at the car plant in Poissy. Katherine worked for Air France as part of their ground staff and Brigitte aspired to take to the air with them.

Quite often one or other of them would arrange to bring a friend over too so at one point we had two Brigittes! The latest one's father worked for Banque Nationale de Paris. I had previously made a model of a clown with flashing eyes for Brigitte Mark 1 so what should I do for Mark 2?

piggy bank painted with union jack and brigitte nina pig

Given her banking connections it had to be a piggy bank, and a British piggy bank at that! So Brigitte Nina Pig was born - Brigitte from its new owner and Pig for pig and Nina, well I needed something to complete the BNP link.