I'm not doing a very good job of staying off my feet, to let the sprained ankle heal. It's hard for me to sit still for long. The pain is minimal now, and the swelling has really gone down, so I am concentrating on not injuring myself again. When I do sit for a while, I keep that foot elevated.
Yesterday, however, I needed to go to the laboratoire d'analyses in Saint-Aignan to have some blood work done, in advance of an appointment with my doctor this morning. It's a regularly scheduled appointment, not specifically related to the sprained ankle.
Walt needed to walk the dog at first light, which is at about 8:15, yesterday, and that's also the hour when the laboratory opens for business. I decided to drive myself down there. It's only about three miles, and there's no traffic. There's only one stop sign and one stoplight on the route, and usually the stoplight is just flashing yellow. Yesterday morning I didn't have to stop for it at all.
The problem turned out to be that the lab, which is right on the river close to the Grand Hôtel, was crowded. There are three parking spaces, and all three were taken. Two cars were parked at the curb — up on the sidewalk, actually, straddling the curb. You know how they park in France. There was no place right in front of the lab for me to leave the car, so I had to turn into the narrow streets of old Saint-Aignan and look for a space.
I found one, and it wasn't too far but was farther than I really wanted to walk. No matter. I hobbled down the street back to the lab, checked in, and sat down in the last available chair in the waiting room. After a few minutes, it was my turn to go down the hall to the rooms where they draw patients' blood.
The woman who "occupied herself of me," as they say in French, was a gray-haired lady of about my age. She sat me down and then read my paperwork. « Monsieur Broadhurst. Charles, » she said. She pronounced Broadhurst with a pretty good English-sounding accent. She seemed confident. I can't remember whether she said Charles the English way or the French way.
I pulled up my sweatshirt sleeve and she started to fasten the tourniquet around my upper arm. I asked her (in French) if the sleeve was pulled up high enough. It's not in the way, she said. Then she looked at me and said, in French (she never actually spoke English): "With a name like that, you must be brittanique." American, I told her. But with British ancestors.
"Oh, American. That explains the fact that you've taken the trouble to learn to speak French," she said. British people, including many of those who come to live in France, notoriously have limited or non-existent abilities when it comes to la langue française.
It's strange to me that Americans have such a different reputation among the French people. I've heard such comments before. Remember, the British are the traditional "enemies" — of the French. It goes back to 1066 and William the Conqueror as we call him. He was called William the Bastard back then, but by the French (or Normands) not especially by the Anglo-Saxons. King William I of England, he became.
Americans are no better than the British at learning foreign languages. That's indisputable fact. (The French aren't any better, I might add, though that might be changing with the younger generations.) However, there are many fewer Americans in France than Brits, and maybe a greater number of the Americans who come here, including Walt and me, are people who have already developed their language skills. Fact is, Walt started learning French when he was 12, and I started at 14. I have two university degrees in French language and literature.
I worked in Paris, Rouen, and Metz for about 8 years in the 1970s. I taught French in Illinois and in California, for several years in each place, at the university level. I worked as a translator in Washington DC for several years. I'm a weird animal. French and France became my way of life. Hell, I even like French pop music, and Walt and I both have found it a great way to learn French pronunciation and expressions. Most British people I know turn up their noses at "that awful excuse for music" that they hear on the radio in France.
The fact is, too, that an American can't get in an automobile and drive to France. Okay, there's a ferry boat or a train through a tunnel to take, but it's an easy trip for a Brit compared to the long flight an American has to take to get to France. And once you're here, as an American, you are a very long way from home. It's expensive to go back. The jet lag can be a killer. You can't easily go home for just a few days.
You can't ask tourists to learn the language of every country they might want to visit. In most countries, nowadays, enough people speak enough English (especially in the cities) to help anglophone tourists get by, and many tourists from many other countries speak some or even very good English too. But from there to thinking you can "up sticks" and move to France without speaking any French is a very long leap.
My personal view is that British people who come to live in France are not so much arrogant about language — as many French people probably think — as naive. They think they will do fine. After a few years, they must think, they will have learned some French and will be speaking it well enough, if not fluently. Would that it were so easy. They don't come here because they love France and the French. They come for the warmer, sunnier climate and the low cost of real estate. Or out of some sense of adventure.
Learning a new language takes concentrated effort, a willingness to make a lot of mistakes and feel silly, and a lot of hard work. It's easy to get discouraged. During the learning process, at times you feel you are making amazing progress, but at other times you feel like you are stagnating and will never get any further. Let me say that I do know many British people who live here and who have learned to speak French, but also many who don't. It's not genetic.
I told the technician at the lab that my ancestors left the British Isles in the 1700s, as far as I know, and that both sides of my family have been in America long enough not to have any known British relations. "Did they go over on the Mayflower," she asked me in French. I'm sure I chuckled. No, I said. I guess I don't really know.
She asked me if my family name had a meaning in English. I told her it does. A "hurst" is a wooded hillside in old English, I told her. And "broad" means wide. It was obvious that she didn't know the word "broad" in English, so I told her that Broadway — a term all French people know — means la large voie, the "wide street," for example. She seemed to think that was interesting.
I also told her that, while I've been to England a few times, I don't really know much about the country. Once when I went there, about 15 years ago, I spent a few days looking at maps and driving around to see if I could find Broadhurst as a place name anywhere. I couldn't. In the research I did, though, I read somewhere that there was a Broadhurst prison over there.
« Une prison juste pour notre famille ! » I told her. « Vous imaginez ? »