Caffè au Lait and Gravel

Lately I have become very slightly obsessed with French. Some of you may have realized by now that I periodically get obsessed with things, sometimes films, sometimes people, sometimes whole countries….. My eight-years-and-counting fixation with Iceland is a case in point.
Right now, though, it’s French. I never exactly learnt this incredible language but can read and write it to some extent. At the age of twelve I was a little confused by what I considered to be a superfluity of totally unnecessary letters. Now, of course, I can appreciate the complex symmetry of the language and its rather beautiful structure.
The upshot of my sudden passion for French was that I ended up in a French cafè on Wednesday, saying ‘merci’ to the extremely French man behind the counter. His face backlit like a screen changed to the highest LED setting as he rumbled, ‘de rien’ in a caramel-soft yet gravelly voice. I don’t know how they manage it, but that particular timbre of voice seems to be a purely Gallic achievement. Nowhere else would it be possible to put caramel and aggregate in the same concept description.
Well, it would be a very odd recipe.
I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I nearly always get overcome by an irresistible desire to speak to people in their own language. But I don’t always think it through – which results in that awkward cross-cultural silence during which you wish the ground would swallow you, but obviously it doesn’t because it’s just a disobliging piece of concrete. Either you didn’t pronounce it quite correctly, or they are so stunned at hearing their mother tongue spoken with such flair on our heathen shores that they are rendered speechless. Naturally the first option is usually the most likely solution, but we always seem to prefer the second, for some reason.
The silence is succeeded by one of two things, both equally embarrassing: the hasty retreat of one of you; or the unleashing of a tsunami of words, only three in a hundred of which you dimly recognize…
The hasty retreat is actually the best of the two outcomes, being far less mortifying for all concerned.
I really need to brush up on my French. Or even start learning it.
À bientôt, mes amis!

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