Little did I know when I ended last month’s column with a throwaway remark about being more tolerant of May (the PM) because I love May (the month) that the next day the former would call my bluff by announcing a snap general election in June.
Always reluctant to engage in politics and still suffering from over-exposure during the local elections, I was tempted to go into immediate estivation – a word I have the chance to use about as infrequently as general elections come around.
Plus Ça Change…
Shortly afterwards, our household was due to receive a French exchange student for a week. Her stay coincided with the day of the French general election. By chance, my daughter’s return visit will include our own polling day.
Our student went home yesterday, and after a very happy and enriching week for us all, I’m now convinced that we’d all gain a much better understanding and tolerance of other nations and religions if we just ignored the politicians and instead embarked on a massive exchange programme. Walking a mile in other nationalities’ shoes would do us all good. Oh, sorry, I mean a kilometre.
We’d never had an exchange student before, but the school prepared us gently and well with reassuring and down-to-earth tips, along the lines of “Don’t worry if they get homesick, it’s not fatal”. Once we’d got the house clean and tidy ready for her arrival, the week turned out to be far less stressful than I had expected.
Our young guest was a gentle, polite and appreciative girl who tried so hard to speak English that her language skills noticeably improved within the week.
Vive la différence!
We spoke openly about the differences that mattered. For example, we like cats, she prefers horses. We have milk in our tea, she doesn’t. The appropriate treatment of chips, we found it harder to agree on: on our day-trip to Weston-super-Mare for a quintessentially English experience, she insisted on mayonnaise rather than vinegar. But I forgave her when she willingly accepted a stick of seaside rock as a souvenir.
Even our cat Dorothy, normally haughty with visitors, made an effort to bond with our French student, spending most of the week asleep on the guest bed.
Only once did politics disrupt our week, when she asked to see the results of the French election as they were announced on television. The look of joyous relief that spread across her face when Macron was declared winner said all we needed to know.
(If you want to read those fateful words I wrote In Praise of May (No, Not That One), you’ll find it here.)