Kate Bailward

Not English, but Bretonne

with 12 comments

I’m 14 years old, and living with a host family in Brittany for the summer to improve my French. The family is made up of Grandmère and Grandpère, their daughter, and their granddaughter, four-year-old Sixtine. Sixtine treats me as her personal plaything, and finds it hilarious when I get things wrong. But how can you not know that, ignoramus?! Every day when I come home from summer school she pounces on me and orders me to sit with her while she watches Livre de la Jungle. Apparently I am Collonell’Artee. I decide it’s best not to analyse whether that’s a compliment or an insult.

After the film, Sixtine drags me out to her den in the garden, bread and jam in hand to keep us going until suppertime. The jam is homemade by Grandmère, and delicious. The sweetness of gooseberry jam, thick with fruit, spread generously over unsalted butter on rough-torn hunks of baguette will always make me think of that summer in France. Even the smell of it bounces me straight back to a time when I could forget that I was the odd one out who couldn’t hold a proper conversation and instead concentrate on being a bossy, elderly, male elephant playing with a four year old monkey.

One day when I get home from school Sixtine runs up to me, bursting with self-importance. Kate! Look! She presents me with her pink plastic beach bucket, filled to the brim with what look to be razor clams and a type of tiny black sea snail. I admire her booty with oohs and aahs. It’s not easy to be effusive with my limited vocabulary, but Sixtine seems satisfied at my attempts, and roots around to find the very biggest clam in the bucket for me.

Grandmère puffs out of the kitchen with a concerned look on her face. She gestures towards the bucket in which Sixtine is foraging with glee. Kate. Tonight we’re eating … these. Grandmère’s face is anxious as she waits for my reaction. I must look dumbstruck, as she puts her hands up with a smile. Non, non – I understand. I’ll make something else for you. I run after her as she heads back towards the kitchen – she’s misunderstood my expression. The horror on my face, far from being revulsion at the thought of eating (thanks to Sixtine’s enthusiastic rummaging, by now probably very dazed) molluscs, is caused by the fact that she would think I’d turn down fresh, delicious shellfish. Untying my tongue, I stammer in stilted French that not on her life am I missing out on clams collected a mere hour earlier. Grandmère claps her hands in excitement and cries, ‘Vraiment! Tu n’es pas Anglaise. Non – t’es Bretonne.’ before bustling back to the kitchen wreathed in smiles.

That evening at dinner I am, for the first time, truly one of the family.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition

Written by Kate Bailward

May 16th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

12 Responses to 'Not English, but Bretonne'

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alison Folwell and Katja, Katja. Katja said: RT @katja_dlam Not English, but Breton http://bit.ly/c3iITN […]

  2. WHAT a wonderful article – it makes ME want to be there, too, dining on sixtine’s hard-earned treasure. Brava!! and good luck!


    18 May 10 at 3:53 am

  3. I love this. It made me incredibly nostalgic about my parents’ old place in France. That image of the bread and jam was just perfect. Absolutely beautiful capture of both the setting and the emotion. If the French tourist board wrote like this, their economy would be booming. So – when are we going then??

    Ali Folwell

    18 May 10 at 10:14 am

  4. This was absolutely lovely. You had me smiling through the post.


    18 May 10 at 1:08 pm

  5. Thanks Jessie – and good luck to you too. I thought I was fearless eating locusts and scorpion, but live sea anenome is FAR more impressive!


    18 May 10 at 2:25 pm

  6. SOON. I’m sure we can dress it up as research for travel articles somehow. ;) And of course J has to see France or his babyhood just won’t be complete. Ahem.


    18 May 10 at 2:27 pm

  7. Thank you Neha. Despite my awkward teenage-ness, I did enjoy that summer …


    18 May 10 at 2:29 pm

  8. How lovely! I felt like I was there with Grandmère and little Sixtine! I’ve been eating a lot of shell fish here in Italy too, so that helped! Thanks for entering and once again, apologies for taking so long to acknowledge this – we had such dreadful internet access in Puglia. Good luck!

    lara dunston

    24 May 10 at 4:18 pm

  9. No worries at all – I know what it’s like down here. One strong breeze and the whole infrastructure seems to fall apart. ;)


    25 May 10 at 12:46 pm

  10. Lovely story! And that is one compliment from Grandmère to keep for years to come :)


    26 May 10 at 1:37 pm

  11. Isn’t it, though? It was one of the best things she could have said to me and I’ve never forgotten it, even though it was over half my life ago now. (Yikes!)


    27 May 10 at 9:16 am

  12. Such a great story, Kate. :-) This makes me smile so big. :-)


    6 Sep 12 at 1:52 pm

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