Across Continents

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Faux pas

October 1st, 2010

School boy error. Silent ’h’. Of course. First Westerner I’d seen in a while and I couldn’t even get his name right. Henri was French. My embarrassment was compounded by having already mentioned I’d studied his native tongue at school. So absolutely no excuse for my faux pas.

He was an environmental consultant, spending a few days in the city of Hami. Visiting mines in the region. A fluent Chinese speaker, having lived in the country for a decade, he was curious as to how I got by linguistically. Did I have to resort to English? I explained not, instead relying on a few simple words, and being painstakingly polite.

Inexplicably, especially given my earlier blunder, I mentioned that it was something of a rarity to encounter the French. I’d stopped short of actually saying "..other than in France", but the implication was probably there. Henri suggested it was because they weren’t an adventurous people. Assured him that wasn’t case. Mentioned the two French cyclists I’d met back in Kazakhstan.

He’d had to head off to meet up with colleagues, leaving me to ponder a stronger cup of coffee. Not a great start to the day. Suppose I could put it down to the remnants of the cold I’d been battling with. In the desert. Mental note. If we met again, remember to remind him of those great swathes of French colonies in South East Asia, West Africa and South America. Adventurous stuff. But probably best not to mention Algeria…

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