by Anton Wills-Eve

<a href=””>Third Rate Romance</a>

the gift of tongues




What was I supposed to do? It was not just my first term or first week at university but my very first day. And to make it worse I had only been living in the country for just over a month and was eighteen years and four months old. But the academic authorities at the Sorbonne in Paris were very understanding and, for all first year non-French students, they laid on two hours of French language lessons twice a week for the whole of the first year.

It was late September and that was supposed to be enough to get our written scholarly French up to the standard of any clever French so and so by the end of the following May. Well I just looked round the classroom of twenty nine students and wondered if I could even talk vaguely sensibly to any of them. Okay, my French, Spanish and Italian were usable as I had studied them to university level at school in England, but I had never spent any lengthy spell of time chatting or writing to natives of those countries.

And worse, much worse, half that class seemed to be German, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and at least six varieties of Asians with whom I knew I hadn’t a chance. Oh well, I shrugged my shoulders and supposed we were all in the same boat. But we weren’t.

The chap in charge of his polyglot flock seemed very pleasant but spoke only in slow, correct and basic French. He told us that if anyone had serious problems he did have some English, Spanish, German, Russian and Italian so could try to help students from those countries but only when absolutely necessary. I almost gave up my scholasitic ambitions there and then because the prospect was daunting. But I had always had a roving eye and, as we could sit where we liked, I saw a really cute little Asian girl and bowed slightly before sitting next to her. My intentions were not totally linguistic. She smiled broadly and made a valiant effort to start a conversation.

“Qui escque que tu crois que est votre pays et nomme, Monsieur?” Boy! I could be in here, her French was much worse than mine. I spoke politely and slowly and said,

“Je suis Anglais, Mademoiselle, et je m’appelles Anton.” Her eyes lit up, as she floored me with her reply.

“Ohh! You GI Joe, no?” I shook my head as I repeated her no. Then an idea struck me. I had a historical atlas with me in my briefcase which I had been given that morning in the lecture theatre, so I opened it at a map of Europe and pointed firmly to England.

“Anglais!” I almost shouted pointing at my own chest. She frowned and then comprehension spread over her enlightened face.

“Blitish man?” she suggested a little tentatively. “You Blitish man, no GI. You fight for my countly 1953. You in Middersec legiment? So my father also, too. Hey, we beat clap outta dem commies, yeah?” This, I could tell might not turn out to be one of my best choices of amorous partner. I thought the only way to help this delightful South Korean girl, she must have been, surely, was to remind her we had to talk and work in French.

“Tell me your name, and reply in French.” The perfect reposte I thought. I was wrong. She was so pleased to find someone on whom she could practise her pidgin English that she at once shook her head.

“No, my pop tell me learn language good and plopper. So you and me we go out all time for you teach to me number one Blitish. Okay?” Well she was very pretty so why not? I smiled back,

“After this lesson we will go out together and I will teach you to speak English very well.”

“Fine,” she said. “but no funny business, okay? I got brack belt in kalate, see. No monkey business.” In truth it had never been my primary intention to play primates with her so I agreed, and after that lesson I never spoke to her again. Anyway, by then, I was eyeing a really dishy blonde on the other side of the room hoping to heavens she didn’t turn out to be as Francophobic as my first acquaintance.