I left Japan and my first port of call in Europe was the beautiful Paris. I did all of the usual touristy things like the museums and sites. I loved how romantic it all was and wished I had someone there to hold my hand along the bridges and promenades, eat out at the gorgeous restaurants and climb the Eifel Tower with.
I sat in the park under the Eifel Tower for half a day just relishing the fact that I was in Europe and daydreamed about what new adventures I could have. I pulled out my little phrase book and started a short lived fascination with the French language.
I love watching people do everyday things in foreign countries. Even seeing people walk their dogs and telling them to sit in their native tongue fascinates me. The French all seemed very together so it was funny when I just happened to see this posh woman parking her car on the main street one day. She casually kept driving until she hit the car in front, then the car at the back, got out and walked off like nothing had happened. She didn’t even check to see if the other cars were ok.
I went closer to have a look at any damage myself and noticed that both her front and rear bumpers had dents in them, as did the cars she had hit either side. Curiously I discovered that every single car on the whole street had similar dented bumpers. Maybe it was a common thing to do there. It’s just a little tap right?
One day I went to see Jim Morrison’s grave on the outskirts of Paris at the Pere Lachaise Cemetry. I am not a particularly huge fan of the Doors or anything, but figured I was there, so why not? I found myself on a pilgrimage of sorts with a snowballing amount of tourists lining up for ages to see the grave. Once I stood there, and even sat on the side of it, I was a bit disappointed to find the grave to be so non descript.
A local guy was telling us that it used to be more ornate, but kept getting robbed, so now it was just a concrete block. I still got my photo taken there, just because.
I loved Paris but was itching to get near the water again. I needed to be on a beach and was very excited about being a beach bum on the French Riviera for a month or so. I didn’t really have any plans, I was just going where the wind blew me.
My French friend Michel knew the owner of one of the hotels and came through with a great deal to stay for about $100 week in my own room. The hotel staff were lovely and treated me like a pet the whole time I was there. The lady at the front desk always made a point of asking if everything was ok with my room, and if I needed anything at all, to just ask.
The room was tiny with a single bed that the door hit when it opened, and a small sink with a mirror above it. I had to share a toilet, but I loved my new little French pad. I decorated straight away by hanging photos up with blue tac, and the odd ornament.
I fell into a little routine where I would sleep in until 11 am or so, have a small pan au chocolate and water for breakfast then head down to the beach. On the way I would stop in at the supermarket where they had meal deals with a baguette, dessert and drink for fifteen francs a day. It was filling and the baguette and dessert changed every day, which was great. My budget didn’t allow for much more, really.
Then I would pop in to the ‘Parfumerie’ down the main street and spray myself with a lovely different perfume every day. The security guards started to get to know my little cheap trick, and eventually banned me from the store barring my entry. I thought that was funny but was disappointed especially the first time, as I didn’t put deodorant on that day, counting on my perfume spritz.
One thing that became a bit of a thorn in my side was the fact that French banks and Post Offices close for a few hours in the middle of the day, like a siesta. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that was only in Spain! By the time I did my little ritual of breakfast, supermarket and parfumerie, it was about the time the banks would close.
Then afterwards by the time they had re-opened in the afternoon, I would be so comfortable on the beach, I couldn’t be bothered getting up to go. Then on my way back, they would be closed again for the day.
It took a good few weeks to break my ritual so that I could get some banking and posting done, especially since I was waiting for a $10,000 payout from my accident in Japan, and was down to my last $50 or so.
I called Tasch to see when she had transferred the money from my Japanese bank account to my French one. The bank account had taken me some pleading to convince the manager that I was staying and that I indeed had a lot of money coming in soon. I just needed somewhere to transfer it into. He finally gave me the account but kept telling me that it is ‘non common.’
Tasch said, “Don’t you have savings you can use while you are waiting for it?”
I did, but it was all in Japan, and it had taken ages for her to transfer the first lot of money to me, so I thought it would just be easier to send a bigger amount next time. She couldn’t believe how casual about it all I was. I knew the money would come in time, and it did.
I say that my love of the French language was short lived, as I do have to admit they were quite rude when I spoke French. Not everyone, of course, but one lady in the post office one day nearly got the dictionary thrown at her!
I just wanted to post a letter and was trying to find out if the same letter would cost the same to Japan, as it would to Australia, as I had one for mum, and one the same, for Tasch.
The woman was being really difficult and ruining my relaxing beach day. She ended up telling me that I couldn’t post the letter today, for some reason, and so I stormed off in a huff, and waited for the teller next to her to be free, and went with her instead. She was nice, but it turned me off trying to speak French.
I found it was better to say a few basic pleasantries in French and then switch to English, as that is what they expected you to do anyway.
My French Canadian friend Kat, told me it was the same for her, and her mother tongue is actually French! Kat came to France for a holiday and said that people would look at her like she was polluting their language.
With the pride on each side ever strong, she said she had to revert to English in the end as the French people would pretend not be able to understand her. She felt disgusted.
I was sunbaking topless on the beach one day as usual, with a bandana over my eyes, and felt something on my foot. At first I thought it was a fly but then I looked down to see a middle aged French man kissing my feet! He didn’t looked shocked when I sat up, he just asked, “Oh, such beautiful petite feet, may I?”
I pulled my feet away horrified and told him to go away! Other people on the beach looked at him too, and he left. Ew, the toe sucking creep!
Old creepy French men were out in force especially as the sun was going down. They would park their yachts and come in to shore looking for young women to schmooze and impress. They would be sipping champagne offering proposals to come on a cruise around the Mediterranean, and I was shocked to see that it actually worked. Groups of girls would go on these boats and who knows what they had to do to thank the older men.
I always said, “No, merci,” and kept walking.
There was another creepy guy that was staying at the hotel who I unfortunately smiled at one morning. He would always happen to be at the front desk when I was, or be sitting in the foyer and bounce out of his couch when I came in. I don’t know how long he had been sitting there, but he started to freak me out.
He then he started calling my room number and asking me for a ‘rendez-vous’ telling me his name was Michel too. I had already had enough bad memories of a Michel in my room for one lifetime. I told reception that he was semi- stalking me and they sorted it out.
The Michel that I had met in Japan did come back to Nice and invited me to come and meet his parents. I did and they were lovely, and Michel was on his best behaviour the whole time. We had a bit of a misunderstanding with his elderly mother, though.
She only spoke French and smiled at me as Michel put out a cheese platter, some bread and wine for afternoon tea. Michel dropped the cheese knife and said, ‘Fuck!’ His mother looked confused and asked what he had just said. He lied and said he had just said, ‘Fork’ in English.
She apparently said to him, why do we need a fork? It then got her on a tangent about seals, as the French word for seal is phoque, pronounced, fock. I could imagine a scene like that in Faulty Towers or something.
His parents made me feel welcome and their house overlooked gorgeous wineries which Tasch would have loved. I was never really a fan of wine but the French wines were famous for a reason, and I found their wine a lot easier to drink. We had a lovely afternoon tea and then I headed back into town.
When you ask for a bottle of water in restaurants, supermarkets and even cafes in Nice they serve you fizzy water. Its assumed that is what you want, just like we assume still water is what people want. It was a hard stretch to get still water in a bottle. At the time I didn’t like the fizzy stuff. Now I drink it to stop me drinking lemonade!
I was walking down to the beach one day and heard some Aussie accents ahead. I had enjoyed my time alone the last few weeks but was excited for some normal conversation. There were three country boys in their Akubra hats and stubbies trying to buy postcards at a touristy shop.
I smiled at them and struck up a conversation. They adopted me then and there as their younger sister. They were only in Nice for a few days and then were hiring a car to drive along the coast through Monaco to Italy. Their destination was the Summer Solstice festival in Venizia (Venice). They talked me in to coming with them and I am so glad I trusted these country boys. We had an absolute blast.