Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Pardon the French

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Pardon the French

Article excerpt

I'm on holiday in F rance for the first time in nine years and I 'd forgotten how lovely it is. The food, the architecture, the scenery - it's all exquisite.

I ndeed, I 'd be tempted to move here permanently in spite of the 75 per cent tax rate were it not for the country's single flaw: it's full of F rench people.

Oh my, but they're ghastly. Not all of them, obviously. No doubt there are some nice F rench people in F rance.

I just haven't met any on this holiday.

Our first bad experience was on the Paris Metro. We'd been led to believe we could change trains in Paris within a 50-minute window, even though it meant getting from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon. A taxi was out because the line at the Gare du Nord was too long so we took the subway.

Unfortunately, the line which connects the two stations was closed and that meant changing, but we would have made it were it not for our fellow passengers. We were about to board out second tube train, a clearly stressed couple with four children under ten and several heavy suitcases, when everyone else on the platform barged in front, shoving us out the way. Charlie, my four-year-old, was knocked over.

This is clearly par for the course on the Metro - it's every man for himself and to hell with women and children - but such a thing would never happen on the London Underground.

After missing our train at the Gare de Lyon, we managed to get on the next one two hours later and that was a marginally more pleasant experience.

I say 'marginally' because the journey was tainted by the smell of body odour. At one point, I took a trip to the buffet car and the stench of the passengers in carriage after carriage was enough to knock a vulture off a stink wagon.

Once we arrived at our destination things picked up considerably. We're renting a house in a little village called F laux about 45 minutes from Avignon and there's no question this is a beautiful part of the world. At dusk, the nearby hills are suffused in a warm orange glow, complemented by the smell of thyme and lavender. But every time we start to fall in love with the country we're brought crashing back down to earth by the local population.

Take our trip to Uzes on Monday evening. This town is picture-postcard pretty - it could have been designed by the animators of Ratatouille.

I t's full of adorable little restaurants, each one bursting with Gallic charm, and we didn't think we'd have any difficulty finding somewhere to have supper. …

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