FRENCH CUSTOMARY GREETING

Picture the scene, you have friends over for lunch, the weather is warm and you are eating roast chicken, bought from the market that morning, outside in the midday sunshine. You can see the Pyrenees from your position at head of the table in south west France.

Sat around the table are 5 adults and 6 children. The partner of the fifth adult is away working, she has arrived with her only son and you have two children. The three remaining children belong to the other couple attending your banquet. All families are known in the local village of which you are now sat.

Half way through your meal a person, known to all, walks onto your patio where you are all sat. He has a question for you, the owner of the house of which he has come to. He approaches the table. You are sat at the far end so the uninvited guest must pass all other diners to get to you. You invite him to take a seat but he laughs it off saying that he has already eaten and has too much work to do.

As he makes his way around the table the women stand and he kisses them hello. He shakes the hands of the men who greedily push more chicken into their mouths. He laughs with the children, the older ones wanting to be shaken by the hand or kissed on the check to show how mature they are.

Finally, twenty minutes later your guest arrives by your side, shakes your hand and asks his question: a question that requires a one word answer. Satisfied he shakes your hand good bye and repeats the rigmarole of his arrival, kissing the women and shaking the hands of the men.

He leaves after receiving his one word which took a good half an hour to get from you. This is the French customary greeting. Whether you know the person or not who arrives, you shake hands, receive a kiss, and repeat as they or you leave. This happens for both social and formal meetings between all ages and genders in what is a mutual sign of respect and not only in small villages of France but in the big cities too.

Old friends kiss a hello, new acquaintances shake hands in a cheery salute and the young embarrassingly kiss the opposite sex ignoring their hormones and siding with tradition. It is something I intend to take back with me to the UK as my tenure on a goat farm comes to an end.

Advertisements

MEETING MY IN-LAWS

Over coming the language barrier with alcohol and food.

I was told that the older generation in the Czech Republic very rarely introduce themselves to the younger crowd, with the use of their first name. When the father of my girlfriend took my hand in a warm embrace that is exactly what he did. I was to call him Vasek, not Pan Palecek, (Mr Palecek) which I had been for warned to call him. With his free left hand he thrust at me a shot of 60% slivovice, a Czech spirit made from nuts, fruit or honey.

As I am not a big drinker of shots due to the fact that they inhibit my memory, this particular evening I was in need of a pick me up. All fear of meeting my in-laws quickly evaporated along with my ability to speak. On shot number three I sat smiling like a child as questions were translated through to me, I did my best to answer without giggling drunkenly.

Pani Paleckova (Mrs Paleckova) sat smiling at me offering Czech treats of all descriptions. I had already sampled her baking through a selection of biscuits brought to me at Christmas time last year. This time I was in for a treat as she served Goulash, (Czech cuisine) that she had cooked for six hours that day. The smell in the house was enough to make your mouth water.

There seemed to be no problem to the fact that I can’t speak Czech, (apart from pleasantries), and my new in-laws speak no English. I couldn’t spend the whole evening saying prosim and dekuji (please and thank you) so instead drank the offered shots of home brewed honey slivovice and nodded occasionally.

I left with an Anglicko Cesky dictionary and sacks full of sweets.

ALL ALONE AT AIRPORT ARRIVALS

One of the saddest things I have seen at airport arrivals is the expected arms of a loved one not being there to welcome a traveller home. When people start the walk from customs to freedom they are met by eyes looking back, eyes waiting for their own joyous moment to greet a missed relative. All the while your eyes are searching for your own recognition and although the waiting eyes aren’t directly upon you, they seem to drill deeper into your fearful state.

It’s the moment that after searching and checking all the expectant eyes, you realise your embrace, you’re welcome home smile is not there and those watching and waiting can’t help but feel emotion for these disappointed souls.

Landing solo and walking the path to the arrivals lounge, knowing no-one is there to meet you takes some effort. It takes a few flights to get use to it but this is achieved far more quickly when you are travelling with someone. Still, I find it a strangely embarrassing event.

It can be compared to walking from a portaloo at a festival. Everyone knows what you were doing, and although no-one is really watching you, it feels like that EVERYONE is watching.

But when someone is meant to meet you at the airport and they aren’t there, panic kicks in.

Many reasons can contribute to this, traffic jams, a plane landing early, people waiting at the wrong terminal. My advice is if you’re planning a trip to meet someone at an airport, give yourself a little more time to be sure not to let your loved one down. You’ll both feel better for it.

The monotony of meeting me every time I land back in the UK quickly became a chore for my family and friends. I now walk from customs with a skip in my step looking ever so slightly above the heads of the searching eyes. I too can walk with a whistle from the portaloo!

WHATS MY NAME AGAIN?

As the last passengers walked by, happily to have flown across the Atlantic Ocean without incident and land in the country of Maple Syrup and Ice hockey, the only people left in the arrivals lounge were me and my friend. We were waiting for our mutual friend who had worked with us the previous summer at the Peligoni sailing club, on the Greek island of Zakynthos.

I then get a phone call on my mobile, a voice void of emotion, asking me to go and answer a grey phone, found hanging on a wall at the end of a long corridor. I passed two doors opposite each other as I approached the ringing phone but thought nothing of these, or the fact the place that I was standing had no escape.

I had been sent there to answer some questions about our visiting friend. A friend who knew me as Ricky to talk to, but when she had seen my name written down on social networks I was Ricardo Bazwarey.

It didn’t help that I knew her as Leen. The first question I was asked: ‘who are you waiting for today?’ I immediately answered Leen Horsford. Leen was who I was expecting to meet. She was the one we were waiting an extra hour at the airport for. It was Leen who we would be living with us for the next month. We were planning a snowboarding trip to Whistler, cycling around Vancouver’s Stanley Park and plenty of drinking.

And it was Leen who was arriving in Vancouver International Airport and was meeting Ricardo Bazwarey, not Ricky Barrington. The immigration officer politely stated, ‘there is no Ricardo Bazwarey in Canada’ and led her into an interrogation room. It was after not being able to provide evidence of funds for her trip, due largely to the fact that Leen had left her purse on the back seat of her mother’s car, that I was asked to take the small walk to answer the phone of no return.

I knew her real name of Emily, but had never called her by it. After quickly answering ‘I’m here to meet Leen Horsford’ to my first question, my hesitation and stuttering as I tried to correct myself bought little assurance to my executioner. At this point I turned slightly from staring at the wall in front of me to see that I was alone at the grey phone. No one had yet emerged to arrest me. My next few replies would most certainly deny access into the country for Leen, and probably see me sitting beside her on the journey back to the UK if I didn’t shape up.

I answered the rest of the questions slowly and more thoughtful before Leen was able to join us for a fun packed month in Canada’s western province, but 5 years later, I still haven’t called her Emily.

THE MILLENNIUM BUG

I know I am very late getting round to read these books, partly because I find it hard to read and write my own stories without getting confused, and partly because I was afraid of the commitment to three volumes of such great number of pages.

But I have recently finished reading the millennium trilogy written by Stieg Larsson. It is by far the biggest attention draining story to adorn adult fiction in a long while. The story line and free flowing style of the author make it impossible to put down.

I rushed to the second hand book shop as soon as I had finished ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ which I had had on my shelf to read for over a year but hadn’t found the time to commit.

I packed the second volume as my book to read as I drove back to the south of France. The return journey took a lot longer than the outward one as I was armed with ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’ and stopped to read every two hours. With a bed in the back of my van I even spent a whole day reading alongside the A20 auto route that runs north to south in France.

When I eventually returned to my rented yurt, I borrowed a copy of the third book and delayed work just to read. Whilst I was reading I wondered how many people have lost their job over these books. Not for the fact that the story is at all true but for the simple point that the books are addictive, a bug, making me for one late to work on several occasions.

The characters are so interesting and the plot so entwined that you feel disappointed when the books finish. You feel a connection that just isn’t able to be cut. Closing ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ for the last time felt emotional and left a hole which Blomkvist and others had so joyously filled.

I intend to wait some time before seeing the films as I wish to preserve my own image of the characters.

Have you seen the films? What do you think and do they relate to the books?

FED UP WITH REALITY TV SHOWS?

Had enough of all the Reality TV they keep throwing at us. Here is my advert for the next season of voting. Spoken in an over enthusiastic Geordie accent.

Introducing a brand new way to vote!

‘TW*TTER’

Install ‘Tw*tter’ on your old unused desktop and follow the new BBC sing along reality TV show voting for the biggest ‘Tw*t’ – Judges included!

Install now and continue to vote on Channel Four’s 121st Big Brother series. Vote on hair style, fashion and general attitude, and for a chance to meet your favourite, click the all new ‘I want to sleep with you’ button!

Guess which contestants are sleeping with the judges in order to get through!

Install ‘Tw*tter’ now and pay monthly to receive updates to find out who, in reality TV, is the biggest Tw*t, and don’t forget – Judges Included!

Don’t delay, install today and spend every waking minute checking updates of your favourite ‘Tw*t’

Coming soon ‘Tw*t*thon’ – Live ‘Tw*tting’

FISH AND CHIPS – A BRITISH AFFAIR

When living away from the UK the thing I miss the most is fish and chips. It’s something I wouldn’t trust myself to cook and if not cooked properly could put me off them for life.

With visiting friends, this was the question we asked ourselves before booking a table at the local pub which advertised a ‘Fish and Chip’ night. Are they going to be British fish and chips? I have experienced other countries attempts at the traditional dish but have to admit, no one does it like the Brits.

So we went to give an evaluation of how the French were going to deal with this recipe and we were not disappointed. The chips cooked enough as not to be white on the inside, (there is nothing worse than being served those ‘just ready’ chips from your local, they need to be slightly brown) and the fish was sweet and juicy, even served with mushy peas and tartar sauce.

The whole affair was very British with the conversation in the bar being conducted in English, it was obviously a menu that many ex pats were missing. A meal that isn’t readily available in rural south west France.

But as we found out during the evening, there was an English person in the kitchen cooking the meal, thus somehow cheating, we couldn’t give the credit to the French.