I was about 8 years old when I first set foot outside of the UK. My family were on holiday in Brighton when my parents decided to take us on a day trip to France. We went from Newhaven, which is a little bit down the coast from Brighton, and went by ferry to Dieppe.
I remember that the ferry journey was quite long, something like 4-5 hours, but it was all quite exciting for little Karl. I remember on the journey going across to France they had two cinemas where they were going to put on films. My parents agreed that I go and watch a film with one of them on the way out, and my brother could go and watch one on the way back. The film I wanted to see was “Police Academy 5” (don’t worry, my film tastes have improved a lot since then!). Originally when we arrived at the on board cinema for this film we were told it was full up, so my mum tried to get us into the other film (which I wasn’t keen to see at all), but they were full up too. We went back to “Police Academy 5”, and somehow there was now space for us, and so we got to see the film. (Incidentally, on the way back, they didn’t show any films for some reason, and so my brother had to miss out. I didn’t find this in the least bit funny. Well, maybe a little...)
Eventually, we arrived in France, and little Karl took his first steps in a foreign country. And, of course, the ferry port in Dieppe would have been manned by a lot of staff, presumably all (or, at least, mostly French) guiding people through the port, dealing with them, and keeping the port secure. People who work at such ports also have a very important job, as they may be the first representatives of their country that foreign visitors ever encounter, and so it’s very important for them to make a good first impression. And I say this because, nearly a quarter of a century later, I can still remember the first Frenchman that I encountered, whilst walking through the ferry port at Dieppe.
The image I have of him in my mind is that he was a middle aged man, somewhere in his forties or fifties. He was a big man, with dark wavy hair, and a moustache if I remember correctly. I think he was working at the port as a security guard.
I was walking through the port, having a good look around at everything around me as I went through my first experience of a foreign country. We walked past this security guard and I looked up at him. He saw me and went, “Ah, bonjour!” and came over and ruffled my hair, before my family continued walking through the port.
I looked up at my mum and asked why it was that he did that, and she said that he thought that was a cute little English boy and he wanted to say “hello”.
And so that was my first encounter with a Frenchman. Whilst it was very short, it has stuck in my mind, as it was a warm and friendly greeting on my first visit to France.
I don’t remember too much else about that trip to France. There was one point where my parents were trying to encourage my brother to say something in French to someone whilst he was in France, but he was refusing. My dad then told him that I had had four conversations with French people whilst we had been there (although, in fairness, I don’t think I said anything much beyond “merci”, and possibly an odd “bonjour” here or there).
My family used to go on many day trips to France, although that was our only one to Dieppe. All of the others were to Calais and the surrounding areas. But I can still remember that first trip, and that first Frenchman, the friendly security guard at Dieppe welcoming people to his country...
Next Week: The Ghost of NaNoWriMo Past (Part One)