You cannot get the French to speak English. The Germans try, the French don’t bother: English seems beneath them, a language for the culturally impoverished. The attitude must be cultivated at an early age – only this can account for the indifference that, on occasions, touches arrogance. It also tells us how little the French must travel beyond their own country. (Germans, on the other hand, travel a lot – I’ve found that while I can escape from Germany for a holiday, I cannot escape the Germans – which explains the empathy they show towards foreigners in their land.)

The language issue surfaces most often in food-related matters. Asking a Frenchman for “something vegetarian” is like trying to make conversation with the neighborhood cat: you only receive a blank stare. On such occasions, the recourse is to make do with crepes, that poor cousin of the Indian dosa.

At the crepes stalls around Belfort, for 2 Euros you can get a pretty French lady with bare shoulders to smile at you. The crepe in her hand – you’ve forgotten all about it for a moment – is, naturally, a bonus.

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