Considering that I’ve been living here for six months, I’ve had surprisingly few amorous encounters with the locals. After a brief, and disastrous, affair with a hollow-cheeked bohemian artist from Paris, there was a period when I struggled to stand five meters from any French man without wanting to spit at him. Dismissing an entire nation on the basis of one individual may sound extreme but this guy really did go above and beyond his duty to live up to the cliché of the arrogant French bastard.
After this encounter, I believed my policy to avoid emaciated but devilishly handsome Galls to be absolutely rigid. However, a couple of Fridays ago my Scottish drinking buddy from the Irish pub introduced me to his token French friend and, from the moment he rested his pale blue irises on me and raised his eyebrows, I knew that this one had been sent to test my resolve. As we flirted outrageously at the bar, I tried to hang on to my personal adage that frogs never turn to princes but it was to no avail: funny, charming and very good looking, I was finding him impossible to resist.
It was as we were animatedly discussing the common usage of slang in the English language that he suddenly leaned across the bar and enquired with wide-eyed innocence, ‘Do you know the saying “Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen”?’ I sighed and gave my Scot a weary look, ‘Did you teach him that?’ He nodded with pride. ‘Oh come on,’ I slapped his arm, ‘is it really necessary to encourage the men around here to treat women badly? They hardly need the help.’
Despite my obvious concerns, I was still thrilled when the Frenchie tapped his digits into my mobile at the end of the evening and suggested that I get in touch. I managed to restrain myself until noon the next day. When, on the Tuesday, he finally replied to my text, it was only to ask if he could write to me in French. I was confused. Perhaps, he only wanted to be friends. Or perhaps this was his way of treating me mean.
I asked my ward, a thirteen-year-old girl to whom I teach English, to help me compose a reply. I’m not convinced that this is what her mother had in mind when she employed me but I’m sure that there were some linguistic benefits to what we were doing. ‘Can you believe,’ I complained as I hit envoyer, ‘that I sent him a text message on Saturday and he didn’t reply for three days?’ ‘Huh?’ She looked baffled. I raised the level of my voice, ‘He didn’t send me an SMS back for THREE,’ I held up the appropriate number of fingers, ‘DAYS.’ ‘Three days?’ she gasped. ‘Then he is a bad guy!’ I tried to defend him, but deep down I feared she was right. This was a new low, I was taking romantic advice from an adolescent; and she clearly had better judgment than me.
The following evening, no reply received, my patience snapped. My message asked simply: ‘Was my French that bad?’ Within minutes he had replied: ‘Hmm, indeed it took a while to understand. Are you available tomorrow for a lunch with me?’ We met at midi in the flooded cobbled alleys of Vieux Nice. He gallantly pulled me underneath his umbrella before ushering me into a nearby restaurant. Perhaps I’d been a little hasty: Gallic men were not so bad after all. The poor thing had been struck down by the flu and he sniffed and spluttered his way through our date courageously. I suggested that we forget coffee so that he could go back to bed but he refused, apparently keen for our rendezvous to continue for as long as possible. And bar the brief appearance of a cockroach, I’d say that the afternoon was an extremely successful exercise in improving Anglo-French relations. As we went to kiss goodbye, I waited for some suggestion of a second date. I tried to encourage him by enquiring into his plans for the weekend. ‘We are having some friends to our apartment,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘then we might come into town for a drink.’ We? When did he become we? Was he referring to a flat mate? People in France don’t really do flat sharing but who else could he mean? He couldn’t possibly have a girlfriend, could he? Then again, he is French… Since Friday I have received several friendly messages. However, none provided any conclusive proof of his intentions or of his availability. If this is his tactic to keep me keen then it is certainly working. And if he ever gets around to asking me to be his mistress, I’m beginning to suspect that I might just be tempted to say ‘I do’.