Just woken up on the first full day in France. Yesterday was a long but ultimately successful one. I managed to avoid the ferry quiz and we didn’t lose any of the children en route. What looked like a former prisoner transport vehicle came to pick up us at the port and deposited us in a very wet Falaise, just in front of the collège. The welcoming committee had not assembled by the time we arrived – where was the tapis rouge? – but soon we were being ushered into the canteen and I spent a good hour trying to cajole the English to speak to the French and vice versa. Not the easiest of tasks when the people concerned are teenagers but good training should the United Nations ever want to employ me as mediator between North & South Korea. A photograph was taken by a man who looked more French than Napoleon (without the uniform I hasten to add, and actually quite a bit taller so my choice of celebrity Frenchman was perhaps not the best…) who insisted upon testing out his English with me. He was on the C/D borderline.
Eventually all the students had been matched up and a kind of détente had set in between the two nationalities; the wary glances at each other had been replaced with, well, glances. Communication at this early stage seemed limited to say the least. My own exchange partner – married mother of two Christel – was part of some complicated (but very laudable) car sharing arrangement with two other teachers and a trainee so we all squeezed into the back of a Renault Clio and headed off in the rain towards Caen. Within the hour (via a small detour to pick up her very cute son Raphael who should win awards for his ability to never stop talking even when being read stories by visiting Englishmen) I was back in Caen making polite chit-chat as the evening meal was being prepared. Raphael thought it was lasagna (how many British three-year olds would recognise that?) and so did I but it turned out to be a delicious dish of layered cheese and vegetables. Cheese and a fruit crumble filled my stomach and after more get-to-know-you chit-chat, I headed off to bed. Speaking so much French again was the most tiring aspect of the day but however hard my linguistic challenge, it probably paled into insignificance compared to students and I look forward to hearing about how they fared on their first evening in France when we all rendez-vous back at the collège in Falaise in a couple of hours time. On the schedule today is a morning in lessons at the school in Falaise and then an exploration of the town. I need to see that cliff!