Once, from behind the brightly painted blue farmhouse door, framed in roses in a deliciously lazy corner of the Loire Valley, I was greeted by a very French, very hospitable BnB host.
‘Bonjour Madame’ I started and then braced myself to deliver an apology for my pigeon French with the best of my school girl capability.
‘C’est bon’…she started, unperturbed, and commenced a tour. ‘Le Cle’ she said as she handed me an enormous old key, ‘…pour la Chambre’ she said gesturing to the bedroom. It went on. Casual references to what I needed to know. Words with gestures. A casual game of charades to equip us with enough knowledge to settle in a la Maison.
The days melted past us in the summer heat, my french conversational skills relaxing into them over croissants & unbelievably good confiture Maison. The skills I had learned were allowed to be dusted off from an archive in the old ‘Mind Palace’. We had a very good time and I thought I understood why she had been listed in my favourite travel guide: ‘Alastair Sawdays, Special Places to Stay’.
Packed and ready to leave, I handed ‘Le Cle’ back to Madame and thanked her for a delightful stay.
‘My pleasure entirely.’ She effused with Chelsea grade perfection. ‘I do hope your parents enjoy the Chateau Villandry – be sure not to miss the garden, it really is magnificent. Au revoir my dear’.
We exchanged a look: mine a broad grin of instant understanding and gratitude, hers a knowing smile, eyes twinkling.
Unlike many other beautiful visits to France, where my experience of exercising an otherwise untapped skill has been cut short (mainly because my hosts generally held a superior standard of English and possibly not the patience Madame), this trip felt different. It felt totally authentic. Totally empowering. It felt like I was living like a local; effectively communicating; refreshing my own capability.
I booked some special accommodation in order to relax and explore, but on top of that, I got self-confidence and expansion. I went to spend time connecting with my parents but I also reconnected with a skill and a vision of myself – one where I can speak French…even if it’s Pigeon. And Madame? Well, that special lady knew exactly what she was providing – it was Good CX.