Wednesday, August 27, 2003

"French Exchange"

Pompt-de-pompt-de-pompt-pompt! See? I speak French like a native, and it was this talent, at the age of fifteen, that got me sent on the school’s French Exchange programme. You know the deal - you get some moody French twit for a couple of weeks, then you get to stay at their place in the South of France for a couple of weeks. Did I mention I got to stay in the South of France? For two weeks? Heh.

The entire situation was a bit fluid. I got some branleur called Jean-Francois for a fortnight, notable only for his hairy palms, one enormous eyebrow and a complete inability to speak English. I searched his room daily for soap, but there was none. For reasons that escape me, however, I was unable to experience the privilege of staying with his family, and instead would be staying with a certain young lady called Sylvie, the mere mention of whom would turn Jean-Francois’ knees to jelly, while simultaneously expressing the universally accepted hand gestures that say “Phwoooooar!” Result.

So. Boosh! Two weeks in France! Unfortunately, to keep the costs down, this meant going by train from Paris to Toulouse as a direct flight from London would have bankrupted our parents. Fair play to Mr Towner for his valiant attempt to get thirty kids plus luggage from one side of Paris to another to reach Austerlitz station, just a shame he got us all hopelessly lost on the Metro and had to hang around for six hours before the next train to the South. Still, he employed an impressive vocabulary of swearing in many, many European languages, skills I am still using today. Who said schools don’t prepare you for life?

Frappe mon cul poilu

I had done Paris the year before, so I already knew one vital fact - the drinking age in France is a mere fourteen years old, and we exploited his fact to the hilt. By the time we had found the buffet car on the train, we were already as pissed as little beetles from the bar at the Gare d'Austerlitz, and the eight hour journey was passed in an alcoholic fug, punctuated only by bouts of rich, brown vomit. And Christ, just to really rub it in, we arrived at Toulouse in the middle of the night to find that we still had a two hour coach journey ahead of us, in a vehicle that was previously used in Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

Let’s just say that Sylvie was as pneumatic as Jean-Francois had suggested, and sadly the property of the school rugby captain. The only action I got off her was the customary kiss on the cheek as I met her off the bus. What was worse was getting the same off her mum, who tried to slip a tongue in. Her dad was built like a brick shithouse. And funnily enough, that’s where he worked, at the town’s water plant. My abiding memory of the place is of one of those hole-in-the-floor French toilets right in the middle of his workshop, with a turd the size of a small dog several inches away from the target which no bugger had bothered clearing up from the night before. No door, no partition, no cleaners. Class.

As a school trip veteran, the whole affair went more or less to plan. Brian spent all his money within two days on a series of ridiculously large presents for his family, and spent the rest of the trip begging money from anyone who would listen. We sat in lessons we could barely comprehend, and went on coach journeys to local landmarks and marvelled at the wonders of French toilet engineering, many of which still sporting the original shit.

And yes, our vindictive teachers back in England barely tolerated our leaving the country for two weeks in the middle of term and got their evil revenge with more homework you could shake a shitty stick at. I spent most of my so-called free time on the trip working on a geography project about the English Midlands, and got my own back by filling it with utter tosh and pettyregional stereotyping:

“Darling, kiss me where it smells”, she said to her boyfriend.
So he drove her to Birmingham.”

I got a grade B.

After a series of parties and doomed attempts at snoggery, the real action was reserved for the last day of the exchange - a mass bicycle ride up into the mountains and forests around Mazamet, taking in the wonderful views, and making a last attempt at copping off with one of the French girls. Failing, naturally. I’m still trying to work out the exact point of this escapade short of trying to get us all killed, leaving the few survivors as starving derelicts in the middle of nowhere. If that’s what they had in mind, it was a raging success. As far as I know, at least two teachers and six pupils are still up there, having maths lessons in a cave, feeding off wild animals, or if times are really tough, each other.

Teenage idiots set loose in the middle of a foreign land --- Clicky for part two of this tale of mirth and woe

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