My first story really should never have been told by the newspaper. The family clearly wasn’t coping. They were also spending €260 a day on taxis. Seems ludicrous. Surely there was a driver amongst them? Why not hire a car? Or move nearer to the hospital? If they were too stressed to work this out for themselves, I’m incredulous that someone didn’t help.
The second story is so bad it’s good. In fact, you have to laugh.
However, what I’m going to relate now is perhaps a more common experience and one that we all should and can avoid.
I was amazed one day when my daughter, in her last year of primary school, came home with a letter about a day trip to France. As a teacher of French, I was used to taking children to France for the day and the timings made me raise my eyebrows. This was pre-tunnel days. I couldn’t see that the children would have much time in France. My worst fears were confirmed: the children sat on the coach all the way to Dover from Southampton. They crossed the channel on a ferry. They drove to a supermarket where they waited for over an hour on the coach whilst the teachers stocked up on booze. Then they came home again. Yep. It was a booze-cruise for the teachers. Sure, it’s always fun going with your mates on a coach – as long as you don’t get travel sick and of course a few did. The group passport and the ferry can be fascinating too. Our kids, though, were used to travel abroad and the “mouth-boat” as they used to call ferries or “fairies” is not so unusual for them. I’m not sure that this particular trip was worth either the day off school or the money.
My daughter did already speak a little French. I used to run a French Club for primary kids and she was a member. However, we hadn’t yet done anything that would be useful in a shopping centre in France.
I’ve written various packages of materials for use with students on day trips abroad. I’ve made a few solo trips to research for these. Every so often I’ve come across students on the dreaded day trip to France. The teacher in me can’t help getting stuck in.
On one such occasion at a supermarket I queued behind a couple of girls who looked about ten years old. At least they’d got to get out of the coach. They were giggling quite a bit. I think they were nervous about having to pay for their goods and were worried that the cashier might say something they didn’t understand or that they might not have enough money.
“You do know some French, don’t you?” I asked as we waited.
The girls nodded.
“What do you know?”
They admitted to “Bonjour, merci, au revoir.”
“Do you know your numbers?” I asked.
They nodded again.
“And you’re good at arithmetic?”
“Watch the till,” I said. “And try and work out what number she’s going to say.”
The cashier later told me it was nice to see English people making the effort to speak French.
“That was fun,” said one of the girls.
I then showed them how they could learn more vocabulary by studying their till receipt.
Later I came across some of their teachers in my favourite café. It saddened me to see them speaking loudly if politely and slowly in English. Okay, so they might not be teachers of French, but most of them were probably of the generation who had done some French at school. You get plenty of clues from listening to the people in front of you in the queue. It only takes a little effort.
I’d like to think that their two students I’d spoken to earlier would do a lot better. I know the ones I’ve taught over the years certainly would.