Rich gazes out of the bistro thumbing the beer mat. She’s 40 minutes late. He wondered if she was coming at all? He supposed that French women were always late, Parisian women possibly the worst culprits. She did seem quite surprised when he suggested meeting for dinner at 7. Did French people eat ridiculously late as the Spanish did? The half empty bistro with people sipping drinks but not eating seemed to confirm this. Next time I’ll make it 8.30, he said to himself. If there is a next time. Assuming that this one happens to begin with.
He sipped his Stella Artois from the glass, proud to have ordered it in French. Surely its ok to drink Stella in France? It is French after all. Could it carry the same wife beating football holiday association as it did in England? He was trying to be authentic, but that would be a terrible first impression. Suddenly he panics. Had she walked in, seen him, clocked the Stella and made a run for it? No. no she’s probably just late. He glances at his watch. Quarter to eight. That’s 45 minutes late and counting. Where is she?… Is Stella from France or Belgium? Bollocks. If I’m quick I could change it now before she arrives. He abruptly stands up clutching the beer vessel that could cost him his date, if it hasn’t already. Why do they have to serve the drinks in the glass that tells the whole world what you’re drinking, the etched name giving it away if the shape of the glass itself doesn’t. I want my drink to be anonymous! He thinks to himself, regretting the need to look more French than his inelegant clothing and terrible accent permits him. I don’t want every sip I take to be an advert for a multi-million-euro corporation beer glass system with proletariat stout and bourgeois craft beer. He takes a swift sip of his drink. Might as well get rid of the bloody stuff. But in his rush he doesn’t tip the glass enough and inhales some froth. He tries to not draw attention to the spluttering fit that follows, but has to whack his own chest with his fist to help move the froth along to the correct cavity in his chest.
He takes a deep breath to calm his nerves, but the panicked gasp that emits from his mouth instead only focuses his attention onto his anxiety and magnifies it. He stands there, bordering on hyperventilation in the middle of the bistro, clutching his half glass as though its filled with his own urine. Wandering eyes from neighbouring tables cast him questioning looks before returning to their softly spoken conversations.
He turns to face the bar, deciding to change his drink and hide the evidence of his prequel into domestic violence. No. wait. Calm down. He scans the room to see what other people are drinking. Are they drinking Stella? Are they drinking it with fists balled in fury waiting to pounce on their compatriots? Suddenly the beer glass labelling comes in handy.
He slowly scans the room, still standing upright at his table among a sea of seated couples who have occupied the tables since he arrived. His eyes suddenly meet the confused gaze of a woman standing three feet to his left.
It’s her. He hasn’t changed his drink and didn’t have time tosses the Stella situation.
“Argh!” He yelps involuntarily.
Her left eyebrow arches beautifully and her pouted lips raise at the corners, visibly amused by his discomfort. Her alluring lips part but she doesn’t speak.
How long has she been standing there?
“Ah” says Rich, trying to compose himself despite the beads of sweat forming on his brow “…Bonjour Mademoiselle.”
She glances out to the dark night and back to him.
“Bon….soir” she replies politely.
Rich senses something is amiss, but perseveres. He decides it polite enquire about her journey.
“Bonne Journée?” He asks
After a few moments she replies hesitantly “Euh oui… bonne journee…”
“Et vous avez le lait?” Asks Rich, keen to impress the skills he acquired from the French conversation classes he forced himself to endure for this very moment.
“Pardon?” She replies quizzically.
“Ah gomme oh vous avez lait”
Still confusion. This is not going to plan.
They both stand in an awkward silence as the hubbub of the bistro grows around them. He’s sure she’s about to turn and leave when her eyes pop a smile.
“Ah! Vous voulez dire ‘comment vous allez’?” She states, as if solving a rather disappointing puzzle.
Alarmed at hearing the correct pronunciation so far from his own, but relieved for the progress, he beams back.
“Très bien merci! Et vous?” He replies with a bow. Why am I bowing?
“Très bien merci” she replies, as if performing a play with a child.
This is painful. But finally – dialogue!
Remembering the potential BeerGate situation in his hand, he surreptitiously places the beer glass back on the table, glancing casually to make sure that the ‘Stella’ logo is at least facing away from her.
Clearly he wasn’t as casual as he intended as he catches her leaning slightly over to see what he was trying to hide. He puts his hand on the table to hide the glass altogether and with his other hand, points to an object on the opposite wall to distract her and give him valuable seconds to figure out how to proceed.
“Très jolie!” He says, pointing to a stuffed grey fish nailed to a plaque on the wall with half its scales missing. It was the first thing his finger landed at.
She looks at the fish, back to him, to the fish and back at him.
“Tu en a bu trop déja?” She queries with a grin, gesturing to the beer behind his hand.
Oh no. What does that mean? Did she just ask me if I drink this as a prequel to start fights with strangers?
He grimaces a smile back and her eyes fill with pity. Or perhaps embarrassment. She cups her hand and mimes throwing back a drink and sways it illustrate what she said. She wants to get drunk and go dancing? Maybe I’m not doing as badly as I thought!
She gestures to the table with her hand, raising her eyebrows.
“Ah yes!” he says, “Where are my manners?” I don’t know the french for that, so Franglais will have to do, but I can’t least redeem himself by behaving like a gentleman.
He moves aside and pulls out a chair for her.
She laughs… Why is she laughing? …and takes a seat.
Rich takes his place opposite her and is once again stunned by her effortless beauty.
Before he can try to think of any words that encapsulate this, the waiter brings the menus, along with a jug of water and some bread.
Unsure of where to start, they both hold their menus higher than needed. Rich cowers behind his, trying to untangle the jibberish written before him.
After a while they lay down their menus and the waiter diligently returns. She orders something in exquisite french.
“Bonne chausette!” He announces in repose to her choices. Her eyes widen. The waiter protrudes his chin as if examining a dirty specimen.
“Et pour vous?” He asks haughtily.
“Err.. Moi aussi, s’il vous plait” he has no idea what she ordered, or what he asked for, but if its good enough for her, it’ll be good enough for him. As long as it wasn’t frog’s legs. Oh no. Do they really eat frogs legs? I really hope its not frogs legs.
“Et pour le plat principal?” Asks the waiter to Rich.
Plat principal… main course. Right. I can do this…
He recognises a single word from the menu and proudly says it aloud in the strongest French accent he can manage.
The waiter’s eyebrows furrow so deeply that they nearly touch his bushy moustache.
“Ein?! Jus du Cu?!” He enquires, pointing at his plump own derrière. His cigarette breath swamps the table for a silence long enough for Rich to go and buy a spade and dig himself a very large hole. The waiter squints and Rich points to the item in the menu.
“Eu…. Gigot.” Confirms the waiter with a humph.
“Oui” whispers Rich, slowly closing the menu and placing it aside.
The waiter glances at them both, as if despairing for the poor woman having to endure a meal with this idiot. He writes a pointed squiggle on his notepad and walks off, chin high in the air.
Those French lessons were a waste of money.