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Imagine! Here I am, only eight years old, away from England for the first time without my parents. I only have a smattering of preparatory school French, and, although my opposite number young Alain speaks a little English, his parents M. and Mme Mingaz don’t speak a word of it. Anyway, after a few days of homesickness, I am falling under the spell of French family life. M. and Mme Mingaz are being so very kind (which makes what I did sound even worse!) and I’m having a smashing time at their home in Nantes and at the little village of St-Jean-de-la-Croix, near Angers, where Alain’s grandfather has a small summer cottage.
(Damn it! I’m not sure at the moment whether to go on with this story or not! Oh well….)
Things are going great! I’m feeling more confident every day with Alain’s friends and family, and my few words of French have started to make sense, not only to me but to the others as well. I’m fascinated by languages and I’m lucky enough to be taking basic Latin at school, even at my age; so this is an opportunity for me to put what I’ve learned into practice.
(Oh yeah? Well it was, wasn’t it?)
I’ve been riding a wave for the whole of the last three weeks and the time has passed too quickly. Now it’s time to say goodbye. I’m all packed and M. Mingaz has his fabulous new white Citroën outside ready to take Alain and me up to Cherbourg for me to board the ferry back to Portsmouth. He is very proud of the car which was one of the first to float up and down on Citroën’s fantastic hydraulic suspension system. He cried out for joy the first week when we reached the incredible speed of 200 kilometres per hour (quite illegally) down one of those long tree-lined route nationales which you find everywhere in France….
(OK. OK. I’m coming to the bit you’re waiting for! Just remember that this is not easy for me!)
Closing my English/French pocket dictionary and smiling broadly, I try to say to M. Mingaz in halting schoolboy French, "I would like to say goodbye to Mrs Mingaz and give her a kiss." This, I think, will go down well. It shows that I have picked up one of the charming French customs not usually practised in England. However….
The English noun "a kiss" is "un baiser" in French, but to use the word "baiser" as a verb is the same as using the infamous four-letter-word f**k in English! Little Christopher, of course, unwittingly uses it as a verb!
(There! I’ve told you!)
Still smiling, I’ve no idea that I have just made a lewd suggestion as to how I would like to say goodbye to Mme Mingaz, but… why is M. Mingaz looking like thunder? On the other hand… why are Mme Mingaz and Alain having fits of the giggles?
At last Alain takes me aside and manages to explain my faux pas, Mme Mingaz is calming her husband down, and much to my relief the farewells end in loving hugs all round!
It took a long time for me to get over my embarrassment, as you can probably tell. After all, I was only 8 years old! At least I can now look back and smile, although I am very careful these days about using that word!