first impressions, or how we invaded France in the first place

I was retrieving all the files from an old laptop this afternoon when I came across some pictures of my family visit to Disneyland Paris, which was actually the first time my sons had been to France and only the second time one of them had been outside the UK (the first time was a trip by ferry to Amsterdam, which started well but ended rather badly thanks to the North Sea and certain people’s refusal to wear anti-seasickness wristbands until it was (a) the middle of the night and (b) too late – but I mustn’t go on about that).
The trip to Disneyland was fairly successful, although the consensus of opinion in our family was that it wasn’t as good as Alton Towers. It was quite an unthreatening way to encounter France for the first time. My command of French, however, was tested to its limits almost as soon as we changed trains at Lille, when not only did I have to buy a phone card but use a public telephone (this kind of thing has caused me problems wherever I go, even where the local language is English) to tell the manager of our holiday accommodation we were running late. My son later used the telephone card vocabulary I had demonstrated to buy a card so that he could ring his girl-friend, with whom he was having a long-distance tiff that lasted right through our stay in France, much to the annoyance of the rest of us.
Another serious test of my French-speaking ability occurred when we went to Paris for the day and got stuck in Les Halles Metro station because our tickets wouldn’t work in the automatic barriers. For a little while I thought that was all we were going to see of Paris, but luckily we managed to explain ourselves eventually and made our escape.
I think these were the experiences that encouraged me to take a second Open University French course instead of just the one I had intended to take! But overall our experience was a positive one, and when I noticed that the train we got off at Lille was heading further south, I realised it wouldn’t actually be that difficult to reach the Mediterranean sunshine.
The rest is not exactly history, but it’s ceratinly the foundation of some of my fiction, if nothing else!

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