I’m reaching back many years while writing this little post. I was recently speaking with a friend about train travel for my French Teacher blog http://learnfrenchwithjennifer.com , and I was reminded of the town of Vichy when my friend recommended that I read this article:
The year was 1992, and I was 21 years old. When thinking upon this incident, I’ve always liked to think of myself as being 18, it sounds so poetic. But I was 21, with a 2 year old at home.
It was my very first trip to Europe, and I was on my way to Vichy, France. Why in the world would I go there (because I’ve never felt the urge to go back)? Let’s just say I was teaching French (very remedial French at the time) at an evangelical church sort of school place in Louisiana. I was invited (of course, I had to pay my own way on credit cards) to attend an evangelical conference in Vichy. So there you have it, that’s how I found my way to France for the first time. Kind of hard to imagine myself in that situation these days, some 20 years later, but that’s how it was.
This article about Vichy reminded me of my first trip to France when I got off of the night train at the stop before Vichy by accident. I was 18 (I mean 21). I didn’t know what to do, so my friend and I walked along the train tracks until we reached a bridge that we weren’t willing to cross. Instead, we went to a nearby nuclear plant where the men working there happened to be changing shifts. We hitched a ride into Vichy with a man who said he had a daughter our age, and it was his duty to make sure we made it there okay. That was my first true experience with a real French person. I suppose it had a lasting impression.
It’s been a while since I have thought about how I felt at that particular moment, walking along train tracks in rural France at about 1 a.m.. I don’t remember being frightened. I was peeved, that’s for sure, because I had a heavy suitcase and a VHS recorder the size of a large Coach bag to tug along, but I was never afraid. It was exhilarating to be in that situation. I had to use my few semesters of undergrad French to explain my plight to nuclear plant shift workers….. That’s how I learned that contrary to popular belief, they don’t speak English in France, and it’s not a good idea to bet on it. I also learned that if you do you best by speaking the target language, wherever you may be, and by braving a sterling smile, there are more good people than bad in this world.