Johnny Foreigner

“Many things had changed in this twenty-first-century world, but the English still headed into Europe like eighteenth-century aristos, treating Johnny Foreigner as a kind of moving wallpaper …” (Reginald Hill, “The Woodcutter”). He’s talking about Spain and how English tourists converse loudly in English about surprisingly intimate affairs, ignoring everybody else in the certain knowledge that none of the locals will understand.

We had the same experience earlier this month at a chambre d’hote near Carcassonne. It’s listed in a well-known English guide book so the clients tend to be English. The last evening we were joined by three English couples. They all seemed to live in listed houses in stunning parts of England with acres of land. One drove a very large 4-wheel drive which was loaded with boxes of Mouton Rothschild, another drove a Morgan and the third was a newly retired Lt-Colonel. You get the picture.

We all sat down to dinner with our hosts, two delightful French sisters, and the new arrivals started an animated and loud discussion among themselves. The rest of us might not have been there. Being British I was occasionally allowed to put in a word but given that I lived in France I had clearly gone native and was therefore not to be trusted and should definitely have been sitting below the salt. My wife, who speaks fluent English, was ignored as were the two sisters who were welcoming us into their home and to their dinner table. One of the sisters understands English so she was taking everything in. We learned that one had sold his company for several millions and had rented an entire castle in Scotland last Christmas for a family party; another recounted how he had had to knock £50,000 off the asking price for his (listed) house so he wouldn’t get the half-million he expected if he ever sold it. The third said they would next be staying with friends in Vaycare. The others seemed to know where this was and bandied about Anglicised versions of French resorts where they’d been or were going. The rest of us hadn’t a clue where these places were (well, we weren’t supposed to understand, were we). I did so hope they got lost and had to try to ask a local peasant how to get there!

It’s as though these people live in a parallel universe where France is still largely part of England. It’s far from the first time this has happened to us, unfortunately. As my wife says: “Ils se croient en pays conquis”.

Anyone know where Vaycare is, by the way?

Why didn’t I do or say something? Well first off because it would have embarrassed our hosts and that would have been even ruder. If you knew me, Jeanette, you’d know I don’t do serf and I’ve never worn a cap in my life! I just found the whole performance pathetic and as such not worth gratifying with an outburst. The Lt-Col was in fact an interesting man when you got him on his own. He’d been places and seen things most of us will never see and probably wouldn’t want to. I could have talked to him for hours. But as part of the pack he wasn’t the same person.

people who live on islands are often insular, I have been through your experience here so many times I can’t remember but I now realise that it is just people who are unsure of themseves and not very intelligent, you have to feel sorry for them!!!