This week I started Backwards in High Heels, a book given to me by a dear friend who felt, with my current lifestyle, it might prove to be an inspiring reading. I knew she’d got it right on page twenty: ‘There are some men that you will never, ever, want to sleep with,’ authors Tania Kindersely and Sarah Vine stated. ‘This is not an insult, because you know perfectly well that you have leapt into bed with humans whom otherwise you would rationally cross the road to avoid… But it is possible not to fancy someone and still adore them unconditionally.’ ‘Hallelujah!’ I shouted aloud, clutching the hard cover to me chest; surrounded by hormonally charged Frenchies, I was starting to think that I was the only person left in the world who believed men and women could be friends.
‘But surely it is obvious that a relationship between a man and a woman is better with sex than without,’ the Professor said matter-of-factly over a petite café on Tuesday afternoon. ‘No,’ I frowned at him, stalling my cup in midair, ‘it is not obvious. Can’t you enjoy a person for their intelligence, their warmth, their sense of humour?’ He smiled slowly, as if charmed by my innocence. ‘I think that when men and women spend a lot of time together, if they enjoy each other’s company, then something physical is simply a natural progression.’ ‘That’s not true,’ I retorted, trying to regain the upper hand, ‘some of my best friends are men and sex has never been an issue with any of them.’ Alright, so the “never” and “any” were added to bolster my argument - like most people I’ve had a couple of perfectly good friendships ruined by a drunken fumble or a declaration of love in a fleeting moment of lunacy – but on the whole, it’s true that most of my best boy friends are, and have always been, just my mates. The Professor shook his head in disbelief, ‘Really? Perhaps this is the way in England but in France men do not have women friends, not unless they are hoping for something more.’ ‘But what about us, Professor, you’re French and we’re friends.’ He didn’t say anything, just gazed out at a boat pulling out of the port, and I realised that it was safer to leave him in his own little world.
In all fairness, there is truth in what the Professor was saying: the concept of platonic mixed-sex relationships doesn’t seem to wash in the continental climate. Sure, you see groups of guys and gals out on the town together but most often they are in couples. When I occasionally come across a French male-female friendship, I nearly always find that there are underlying sexual tensions.
‘Surely, in England, you have… what’s the name? Fuck friends?’ my Argentine Neuroscientist batted his eyelids at me innocently and took a sip of his pression as he waited for my reply. I’d only mentioned my conversation with the Professor because I’d assumed a bright, young brain specialist would understand my point of view; instead, he seemed to have misread my intentions. ‘Yes,’ I nodded, ignoring the predatory nature of his enquiry, ‘but I have a lot of non-fuck friends too. Don’t you?’ ‘Actually nearly all of my mates in Buenos Aires are women,’ he replied, puffing out his chest. ‘Well there you go then. You haven’t had sex with all of them, have you?’ He shrugged, ‘Si. Pretty much all of them,’ he paused to do some mental arithmetic, ‘at one time or another.’ No wonder he prefers having female friends, I thought; like I said he’s a clever boy.
The only place in Nice that I have managed to make bona fide male mates is in the safe haven of the Irish pub. Celts don’t seem to have any problem sharing a few drinks with a lassie without trying to get in her knickers. Okay, they do try sometimes, but only on the off chance that you might be drunk enough to say yes. Where they differ from the Latin-blooded male specie is that, if you’re not up for a bit of intoxicated bed-hopping, they’re happy to hang out with you anyway.
Only the other night I was having a beer with the Scot, watching our friend Frankie play an acoustic set at the Scandi bar. Frankie, another highlander, launched into a song that celebrated his platonic friendships with the opposite sex. I glanced at the Scot and smiled. ‘I know’ he said over the music, ‘that we annoy the hell out of each other but I am actually going to miss you, when you bugger off back to England. We’ll stay in touch, won’t we?’ ‘Of course,’ I said, looking him in the eye, ‘you’re one of my best friends now, even if you do shout at me when I get questions wrong on quiz night.’ ‘Ach,’ he slapped a hand to his chest, ‘stop it, you’re killing me here.’ Getting up to order another drink, he punched me softly on the arm, ‘No ifs or buts, you’re having a pint.’ A Stella and a Magners landed on the table, he settled down and returned to our unresolved argument over the origins of 1990s pop sensation, Whigfield (no matter how much a person says South Africa, it doesn’t make DENMARK any less the right answer, sheesh). At 2am the debate was still raging so we agreed to disagree until the next day, kissed goodnight and stumbled to our own beds. No ifs and definitely no butts.