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Saturday 1 October 2016

Taking French leave

It's a love-hate thing, but mostly Eilis O'Hanlon hates the French. But a staycation is making her pine for Gaul

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

Cannes in the French Riviera - Eilis O'Hanlon didn't go to France this summer
Cannes in the French Riviera - Eilis O'Hanlon didn't go to France this summer
Eilish O'Hanlon

Before anyone starts making sarcastic remarks about "First World problems", can I be the first to point out that I am fully aware that this one isn't up there at the top of the list of emergencies facing humanity.

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In fact, it's not on the list at all. But, as Neil Young once sang: "Though my problems are meaningless, that don't make them go away." My problem is that I didn't go to France this summer.

There, I said it.

It's not as if I ask much from life. I don't dine out at fancy restaurants. An Indian takeaway on a Friday is the height of my profligacy. I buy my wine at budget supermarkets and my clothes are built to last. My one extravagance is that I like to go to France in the summer, and this year it didn't happen, for various reasons too tedious to go into.

Suffice to say that Ireland it was, and while a staycation is all very nice - especially as I spent this one in my actual house, meaning I didn't even have to pack, or feel guilty about leaving the cats behind - it would help if the Irish had been a bit more surly, or smellier at least, so I could have enjoyed the continental experience I've come to expect at this time of year. And if that sounds as if I'm complaining about the French, I am, but that's part of my summer ritual too.

I might make endless cracks about cheese-eating surrender monkeys who have the personal hygiene habits of a down-and-out, and the charm of a randy moose with a stone stuck in its hoof, but that doesn't mean I don't love the place. It's just that we have this complicated relationship. I accept their little idiosyncrasies, and they - I was going to say they accept mine in return, but that wouldn't be correct.

It would be more accurate to say that they totally ignore my existence. If they did deign to notice me, they would, no doubt, consider my feelings to be of no consequence whatsoever, with me not being French - which, to your average Gallic citizen, is a crime second only to being British - and praise the Lord, I at least avoided that fate. Not that the French realise I'm not British.

As far as they're concerned, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks en anglais, then it's an English duck, and no amount of pleading "mais je suis Irlandais, monsieur" ever really convinces them, because the English long ago wised up to the fact that everyone hates them and started telling gullible foreigners that they're Irish too.

But I still have a sneaking fondness for France. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I like the place far more than all those achingly hip Dublin 4 types - who automatically assume anything "European" is innately superior - do. I cherish the French despite their faults, and sometimes as a result of them, not because I believe their smug assurance that they have none.

Anyone can fall in love with George Clooney. It's being able to admit your passion for Quasimodo which is the sign of a true romance.

That's why I always look forward to getting back to France each summer and doing what we always do. Visiting moribund towns where it looks as if literally nothing has happened since the Hundred Years War. Driving along roads where an exaggerated sense of Gallic masculinity makes it a 50/50 chance at best that you'll get home in one piece. Gagging in shops and markets at the sheer quantity of dead things the French delight in eating. I feel that I have let my family down by not being able to reintroduce them to these annual pleasures.

Not that my son cares. He considers it a personal affront if the temperature rises a notch above slightly chilly. He's always regarded holidays in the sun the way an aristocrat might look on a trip to Madame Guillotine. Himself wasn't bothered either, as he rarely relishes the prospect of 16 hours on a boat because I refuse to catch the plane like a normal person. The females of the house, however, need our yearly French connection. The winters are long and hard enough out here in the North Atlantic without failing to stock up first on sunbeams. Oh well, only another 12 months to go.

Sunday Independent

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