French Exchange (1972)

Extract from 1971-72 School Magazine

By R. Avery 5B


By R. Avery 5B

The date was March 25th; the place was the village of Bar-Sur-Aube, France, and it was the first morning of the stay of the combined St. Nicholas and St. Mary's French Exchange Party.

This collection of Bardot/Distel hunters had arrived at ten-thirty the previous evening when, "tired but happy'' we seven St. Nicholas representatives (together with twice that number of St. Mary's pupils) had dispersed to our respective French families. It had been dark and all I could make out of my own exchange partner had been a vaguely stocky garçon called Patrice who, like most people, was somewhat shorter than I. He was the eldest son of either a builder or an undertaker. (The word is the same in French, and so I was not at first sure which was the case. As it turned out, my host was a builder.)

I was awakened that morning by the words "Salut, Richard!' My reply had been an uninspired "Morning' which I vaguely followed up with '"Aallool". Due to my rather bleary state of mind, my friend's suppressed gurgle at this initial attempt went practically unheeded.

Later on I determined to impress Patrice with my grasp of his language, and so "avant de sortir" (before going out) I learned a few potentially useful phrases from "un livre'' (a book) which I had bought in England. Far from being one of the run-of the-mill "Traversez la rue et suivez les lignes de tramway'' phrase books, this one gave the English tourist a chance to speak "real'' French. Anyway, as we were walking around the village, shortly before attending a special reception by the Mayor at the Town Hall, I chanced to notice two representatives of young French womanhood on the other side of the road, and so nudging Patrice in the ribs I said "Tu vois les deux nanas là-bas? On va les draguer, hein?'' (See those two chicks over there? Let's go and chat them up.) My companion stared at me for a moment, and then burst out laughing. I had arrived.

One of the most amusing aspects of the French life is the behaviour of Frenchmen on the roads, which borders occasionally on naughty-boy level. Apparently considering the "Code de la Route" as something for women and children only, they scorn all speed-limits and road markings, driving at speeds averaging about 70 mph, straight down the middle of the road. Occasionally they seem to tire of this and drive on the grass verges but never on the right (or left) side of the road. They also would rather use the horn than the brakes it seems. It is no exaggeration to say that the only time the Code is obeyed is when "les flics'' (the police) are in the vicinity. The change is quite dramatic. Indeed it is possible to identify a police car from a distance of one mile, by the long queue of Citroens, driving just within the speed limit, that will inevitably follow it.

During the last days of our stay we went to the French School, the 'Lycée Gaston Bachelard'' which, we were to gather, had only been open for a few years. It was, as may be expected, very modern and very new-looking. One of the most noticeable features of the school was the youth of the staff. The headmaster, who appeared to be the oldest member could not have been much over forty, perhaps because of this, there was a noticeable orderliness, combined with informality and democracy, about the French classes. Whether or not these qualities are typical of their everyday school life is another matter, but it would not surprise me if they were.

Perhaps to make us realise just how peculiar we sounded, we were invited to attend the English lessons. During these periods the available English natives were placed at the front of the class and supposedly bombarded by questions in their mother tongue. However, although it is true to say that in France anything English is unbelievably "in", the language is not, but it is rather funny to listen to. Conversation was rather difficult, as may be imagined. Occasionally a question would float out of the laughter such as, "Do you have a cloud of milk in you cup of tea at five o'clock?'' More often than not, feeling undeniably like a performing seal, one would finish by attempting to speak French. This rather defeated the point of the lessons, but some headway was at least made by the end of a period because, by our making this effort, we gained the French students' sympathy. Thus we felt aided rather than paraded.

My personal favourite among the many surprising French customs was that of the whole family becoming slightly bourree'' (intoxicated) on the local wine at Sunday dinner After this achievement came the siesta, as everyone dragged themselves upstairs to sleep it off. We soon adapted ourselves to this pleasant custom.

Thus it was with mixed feelings that we made our way back to England, and among the memories we brought back were a few which will serve to draw many familiar faces back to France next Easter.

R. Avery - 5B.

1972 School Magazine


The Rivals (1971)

School Fair (1962)


School Rules