The French Connection.jpg

The French Connection

By JUNE LOVER [email protected]

After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006.  Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil.

My birthday treat this year was a trip to Paris. Três jolie! 

It’s no secret that foreign languages are not my strong point. However, my long-term memory is better than my short, and I managed to rake up a few phrases from my schoolgirl French that would stand me in good stead.

Armed with a few s.v.p’s, merci beaucoup’s, and the essential je ne parle pas Français, I boarded the plane from Faro to Paris with confidence.

As always, things didn’t quite go according to plan, and every time I opened my mouth in Gay Paree, my carefully rehearsed French disappeared out of the window and Portuguese words popped out.

No matter how hard I tried, my merci’s turned into obrigada’s, and my s’il vous plait’s into faz favor’s.

At first it was funny, but it soon became embarrassing because it looked as though I was trying to show off that eu falo Português, which, as you all know, I don’t.

I decided to keep my mouth shut and let my husband do the talking. His French is infinitely better than mine.

But I totally cracked up when I heard him say “encore deux bières faz favor”. The waiter gave me a very peculiar look as tears of laughter rolled down my face, and of course I was totally incapable of explaining the joke.

So it’s not just me – it’s both of us. We’ve become Portugeezers!

Our trip to Paris was brief, and four days later the taxi driver picked us up from Faro Airport and delivered us to our home at half-past midnight.

I was tired. “Merci!  Bon nuit!” I called as I walked to the front door. I can’t believe I said that! The words just came out all by themselves.

What is the matter with me? I have just spent four days making an utter fool of myself language-wise, when suddenly the French vernacular trips off my tongue with consummate ease and the taxi driver is looking at me as if I’ve gone bonkers.

Quite frankly, I think I have. Either that or I’m having an identity crisis.

To make matters worse, I spent the next few days saying Bonjour and Oui. A visit to a nearby shop two days later began to get me worried.

I made my request in what can only be described as perfect Portuguese. “Fala Português!” said the shopkeeper with obvious delight and a huge grin on his face.

“Oui, un peu” I replied modestly. The words were out of my mouth before I had chance to think.

I instantly realised my mistake, but it was too late, and it all got a bit muddled. After two years of struggling to learn Portuguese, four days in Paris have turned me into a Frog! 

Paris was, of course, magic. Is there any more beautiful city in the world? And the language is just as charming.

Whether you understand it or not, the lyrical sing-song intonations are a delight to the ear, and make the Portuguese language sound quite abrasive by comparison.

This doesn’t apply to the Horatio Horn-Blowers, though. In Paris, the car horn is used for one reason and one reason only and has just one message to convey. “Get outta my way!”

Shortly after our return, World Cup fever descended upon us with a vengeance. As far as I know, there’s no antidote for this infectious disease, so you just have to sweat it out and take plenty of paracetamol to ease the pain.

I am not a football fan which, at times like this, puts me in a minority of one.

There was much controversy, both on and off the pitch, and the press had a field day.

In an attempt to take an interest I fired off an email containing questions regarding referees’ decisions to my resident expert and father-in-law, the French connection.

What he doesn’t know about football isn’t worth knowing. Highly regarded in FIFA circles, he has written many books and toured the world countless times, giving tutorials and co-ordinating workshops regarding the rules and the refereeing of the sport.

As expected, he replied with detailed explanations to my queries, and included a three-page article on the subject.

Unfortunately, I got rather carried away and fired off another email voicing some criticisms and opinions which, in retrospect, I should have kept to myself.

As soon as I clicked the ‘send’ button, I knew this was no way to show gratitude to my generous host for my birthday treat. Me and my big mouth. 

“Offside!” was his immediate response, and he gave me a red card for abusing his lifelong passion.

“A simple, healthy leisure time activity which diverts billions from killing each other deserves better than that.” Not only that, he stripped me of my rank, and I was demoted from ‘favourite daughter-in-law’ to ‘dear daughter-in-law’.

I spent the rest of the series in purdah. But I couldn’t help thinking it didn’t look like a simple, healthy leisure time activity to me. 

In spite of this, I thoroughly enjoyed the match between Portugal and North Korea, even though I didn’t watch it.  I didn’t have to.  I just sat on the terrace sipping ice-cold beer and listened to the roars and cheers and horn-blowing that echoed round the valley at regular intervals.

Seven regular intervals to be precise. This is my kinda football!   I even learnt a new Portuguese phrase. Força Portugal! It doesn’t translate to English very well, but it’s clear what it means and is displayed on t-shirts worn by supporters everywhere.

I nearly bought one myself but decided to remain impartial under the circumstances and stick to my black robes.

In the meantime, the England team were squabbling amongst themselves and France were ‘revolting’.

They were subsequently sent home in disgrace following a 2-1 loss against the host nation. I don’t think President Sarkozy was too happy about that.

England made it through to the second round by the skin of their teeth, defeating a country few people had heard of, and we all rushed to our atlases to find out the whereabouts of Slovenia. 

What was great about this match was that the dreadful din of the vuvuzelas was drowned by the patriotic singing of ‘God Save The Queen’. Marvellous!

Meanwhile, back in London, the newly-formed coalition Government presented its emergency Budget and hardly anyone batted an eyelid.

Good timing, Mr Cameron – all eyes were on the footie. Or were they? Wimbledon fortnight had begun and who could ever have foreseen the marathon of marathon matches that would unfold?

History in the making. A contest which took eleven hours over three days culminating in a record breaking 138-game final set had my full attention.

I couldn’t have asked for a better diversion.

Nicolas Mahut may have lost the match to the gentle giant from America, but he won the hearts of millions by demonstrating the most perfect manners and setting a superb example in professional gamesmanship.

That must have put the smile back on President Sarkozy’s face.

 Like Swine Flu’, the World Cup pandemic spread at an alarming rate. Immune from the infection, I watched helplessly from behind my screen as temperatures rose and blood pressures went through the roof.

Portugal drew with Brazil but managed to scrape through somehow, and the much-hyped England v Germany match ended in tears, surrounded as it was by mais controvérsia. 

The media clamoured for blood, anybody’s blood.

In his autobiography Chronicles of a Timid Lover, pa-in-law Stanley Lover describes football as “such a simple game, yet each match touches a whole range of human emotions, from the depths of despair to peaks of joy.” 

There’s no denying there was plenty of both in this year’s challenge, but whilst I deeply regret offending him by rubbishing the sport to which he has devoted his life for nigh on 80 years, I remained impassive.

Life went on, and so did the World Cup. England retired hurt, so I pinned my hopes on Portugal. Would they beat Spain to go through to the quarter-finals? 

Sadly this was not to be, and the contest continued without me. I did watch the final, but fell asleep during the second half of extra time so missed the goal.

C’est la vie. Ooops. I’ve done it again! I meant to say É a vida!