Thursday, October 20, 2005

L'Entente Cordiale

To my undying shame, I spent two weeks of the summer of my thirteenth year being hateful to a French boy. His name was Guilliame and he was my exchange partner.

Thanks to his warm and welcoming family, I had enjoyed a wonderful Easter holiday in the western Loire region, exploring the medieval glory of Anjou and Nantes and splashing about in the warm Atlantic at their beach house in Brittany, begining a love affair with western France that persists today. I had spoken nothing but bad French for two weeks, eaten great food, basked in the sun, and had a generally splendid time.

Guilliame and I had got on fine in France, although he did prove himself to be a little bit of a bastard (not unlike his famous namesake), blaming me for a broken screen door knowing that I could understand what he was saying but lacked the vocab to adequately defend myself. However, when he arrived in England that summer for the reciprocal visit, he turned out to be a listless, ungrateful turd.

My family dragged him all over southern England, from the bright lights of London to the ancient mysteries of Stonehenge and Guilliame essentially couldn't be arsed with any of it. We were living in Hampshire at the time, on the southern coast, and not far from Portsmouth, home of the Royal Navy. I think after Guilliame sneered at the personal tour of the flight line of RAF Odiham where dad was based at the time, my father and I reached an unspoken consensus that we had to humiliate the little prick.

I am not proud of what we did, nor do I know if it served to make him any more miserable than his default mood. However, when you are a teenager and feeling vindictive, dragging a Frenchman through the decks of HMS Victory, through the Naval museum's collection of captured French flags and ensigns from various centuries, past Martello Towers, and even around Second World War gun emplacements constructed "because you French surrendered to Hitler without a fight" was deeply, pettily, satisfying. We even took him to Stratfield Saye, the country seat of the Duke of Wellington who smashed Napoleon at Waterloo, ostensibly to look at the peacocks but in reality to show Guilliame the captured French cannon that lined the driveway.

But now, in this week of great celebration and commemoration of the British victory at Trafalgar and the ensuing death of Nelson, I feel I should join with Her Maj Queen Brenda 2 of Great Britain and President Chirac of France in burying the hatchet and extending the olive branch:

"Under the Patronage of Her Majesty The Queen and The President of the French Republic French and British students call for renewed Franco-British cooperation"

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