18 July 2008


Some time ago on the radio I heard someone say that we (the French) were farmers, not sailors, and that's why we weren't so adventurous or bold in our everyday lives... Is that it then? It could be an explanation. Farmers tend to be traditional and to lack curiosity for the outside of their world while sailors tend to be bold and keen to know about the outside world.

It triggered a couple of memories. I left home at the age of 19 with a rucksack and after a whole year living in Israel I returned to my parents house, in December 1964, for a stopover before proceeding to England. My head was full of stories. I had encountered another way of life, had met other kinds of people, had eaten other sorts of food and I wanted to tell. My parents weren't interested. After dinner the first night I remember pulling out a map and spreading it on the kitchen table. I wanted to tell. My mother said sharply that my brother and they were working the next day and that they had more important things to do than listening to my stories.

Ten years later, in 1974, I came back from living and working some eight years in Australia. As I registered at the employment office in Lyon, France, saying all my work experience was from Australia, the lady said coldly that it was of no interest to her, and why on earth did I go there in the first place.

Very recently at a family meal after my uncle's funeral, one of my cousins mentioned Australian wines. I ventured to say that I preferred wines from New Zealand because the climate in Australia made wines to taste more like stronger Algerian wines. My cousin retorted: 'oh you, it isn't because you've been to Australia that you know everything'. So, I shut up for the rest of the meal.

On the radio again the other day, I heard a man talk about his recent sailing trip across the Atlantic and round South America with his wife and five children.

At one stage the lady interviewer asked how the kids must feel now that they are back at school in France. What he replied was amazing. He said that one day he was summoned by the school teacher of one of his kids. Apparently the child was telling that she had been swimming with sea elephants. That could not be true and it was disturbing the other children at school. So, the family decided to keep their stories for themselves.

Those French children with a fabulous experience of a sailing life on the oceans could not share that experience with other French kids. Why? And the father added that, yes, he thought it was their duty to adapt to the local scene and not the other way around.

No, it isn't right. I find it very sad that my own people show no interest in what other more adventurous French folks do. In fact... it is the old story of Montcalm in Canada asking the king of France for help and the king replying that he was busy with his horse... or something like that. Are we all farmers then, bent by tradition and habitual thinking with no curiosity for the outside world?... except for the odd one out who is going to be rejected.

Incidentally the story of this man is reported on: http://petitsmousses.fr and he is selling his sailboat.