French Leave

A link via the always-amusing Kelly led me here, where the question was asked: what was your best summer job? Mine was definitely the summer when I was 17. It was the first time I had ever been to Paris, and I’ll tell you how I got there.

The summer before, a couple of French scientists, husband and wife, had come to work for the summer at the lab where my Dad worked, in Maine. They had two little boys who were not only complete hellions, but could only speak French. So they ran through the pool of available baby-sitters very quickly.

My Dad kindly offered my services without asking me first. I had cleverly refused to take Home Ec in 7th grade, on the grounds that I already knew how to cook and spending days making Jell-O was pointless, and took French instead. It seemed a good idea at the time, but little did I know that it would lead to my spending the summer instilling manners into Olivier and Thierry. I never did manage to break their habit of being naked on the beach, but that was the least of my worries. BTW, the one and only time I saw “Star Wars” was with Olivier and Thierry, and I spent the whole movie translating it for them.

Apparently my Miss Manners boot camp was pretty successful, because the parents offered to pay my way to France the next summer. I didn’t really believe them, but voil&agrave! A plane ticket to Paris was produced. I stayed in Paris for a week with friends of the scientists, who conveniently had two handsome sons a little older than I was at the time who very kindly showed me the sights.

Then I took the TGV to Nice, and spent the summer there. The family had a beautiful old house overlooking the city of Nice, and I had a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room in a tower! The bed was very high and had a flight of little wooden steps up to it. Every morning, the boys would come running in and jump on the bed yelling, “Time to get up! Yes, please!”

We’d spend the day at the beach or messing around in Nice. That’s where:

– I acquired an addiction to caffeine that endures to this day, thanks to the morning espresso.

– Discovered how truly repulsive Gitanes and Gauloises were.

– Horrified two old American guys in leisure suits on the beach who were making remarks about all the topless girls. One of them asked the other what time it was and I said, “Oh, about 1:00”, and they fled. They didn’t think I knew what they were saying, since I only spoke French to the kids. I’m sure they continued to be sexist jerks, but not on my beach.

– First went to Monaco.

– Got a really bad sunburn, yes, while topless, which will probably lead to skin cancer one of these days.

– First tasted pesto and bouillabaisse and French bread and friture de pays.

– Fell in love with France.

If you have to work, that’s the way to do it. It’s all been downhill since then.

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4 comments on “French Leave

  1. Amber

    It sounds incredible!

  2. Colin

    How long did it take you to learn to speak French fluently?

  3. Babs

    It sounds amazing!! But I can’t help but cringe at the topless sunburn.

  4. Suzy

    Babs, I think only a woman can appreciate the full horror of that particular sunburn! LOL I fell asleep in the sun like a retard. I notice I have never done it again, though!

    Colin, I knew all the grammar and stuff before the first baby-sitting summer, but that really made me fluent because I *had* to use it. Also learned lots of good vernacular there and in France. Sadly, my French has become quite rusty through lack of use. I’m always afraid I’m going to get laughed at in France, but I never am! I might make Babs and Becky laugh, though. Almost certainly.

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