Abroad II Anyone who’s been reading for sometime will know that in most things I’m quite confident. I’ll head at it like a bull and usually work my way through somehow. So there I was standing a in Charles de Gaulle airport (not pretty) and realizing I have absolutely no idea what to do. I know I have to ring home to tell everyone I’ve arrived, but when I approach the phone it doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before, with it’s slot and nothing else. Nowhere to put money. Nowhere to do anything. I put in my credit card. Nothing happens. Then the plane announcer says something I don’t understand and for the first time it dawned on me that I was in a different country.

A sign with a logo on it in the shape of a train was pointing in no particular direction so I decided to follow it. A crowd was heading that direction so I was more following them (hoping that they had the same idea as I did). I had instructions on how to get to the hotel so I decided that rather than deliberately getting lost I’d head there. The walk to the station was about ten minutes through some deep uninspiring concrete. Liverpool ‘John Lennon’ Airport (‘Above us only sky …’) at least has Speke Hall to look at. Here there’s a Prince Charles nightmare of a hotel and a motorway.

Somehow I manage to find myself to the information desk at the railway station. I look at the clerk. She looks back at me. Up until this point I’d been telling myself I would get by. I knew a little bit of French. I’d studied at school for three years afterall. As I stood here, the rest of the story fell into place. I’d been set four French. We’d studied almost nothing useful for two years and I hadn’t paid any attention because I had a crush on the teacher. Anything I might say in French would be just embarrassing.

The only part of me that I’m at all confident with – speaking – is suddenly gone. I hadn’t quite comprehended how alien everything would actually be. For thirty seconds, I’m a mute. I tap my forefinger on the counter. By now the clerk obviously thinks I’m a loony. Then I apologise for not being French.

‘I’m sorry, I’m English.’ No shit, she thinks. I don’t know that for sure but somethings you can tell in the eyes. ‘I just got here.’
‘Yes.’ She says.
'You speak English.’
'Non.’
To this moment I’m not sure if she was lying just so she could have some fun. But whatever’s happening I’m sinking. At the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘Three days like this?’
‘I’m here for three days. Do you have a travel pass or something?’ And so I entered the Roast Beef approach to foreign languages SHOUT LOUDER. I was everything I promised myself I wouldn’t be if I ever left my small island.
Without another word the clerk starts to madly rushing about her cubicle. I hear her mumble something about a leaflet. Eventually she actually growls and returns to her chair. She points.
I follow her pointing. The ticket office is right behind me. There are queues.
'Thank you.’ I mumble and draw away. As a turn, the person behind me in is boggling their eyes. I don’t blame them.

At the ticket counter it starts again. I don’t apologise for my nationality this time (I conclude that they’d all be speaking German if it was for us … just one of the irrational rationalities I’d make over the coming hours). I say I’ll be there for three days and before I can say anything else a travel pass is thrown over the counter. I throw back my credit card and thirtysomething Euros are charged. I didn’t care how much cost I just wanted to get away from the station. As I take the escalator to the platform I keep saying saying to myself, out loud, ‘oh hell what do I do now’ … ‘oh hell what do I do now’ …

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