As the exam season kicks in with a vengeance, my student daughter hit on a brilliant idea to revise for her impending French oral. She and her flatmate booked a budget flight to Lyon and spent two days immersed in speaking French. It was a far better (and more fun) idea than the usual method of improving teenagers’ language skills – the dreaded French exchange.
Apart from my schoolfriend Sarah, who became lifelong pals with the French girl she exchanged with, I’ve never come across a success story.
When I was 16, I swapped with a sweet French girl called Marie-Line who lived in a fishing village on the Normandy coast. I was desperately homesick, barely uttered a word of French and had nightmares for weeks after walking into the basement and discovering a massive tank of crabs, fish and other creatures from the ocean swimming around – the results of her father’s latest fishing trip.
My daughter did a French exchange at the age of 12, which was far too young. It came about after a French business contact of my husband’s suggested it – and we reckoned it would be churlish to refuse.
When Jean-Paul delivered his daughter Sabine to our house she was clearly appalled by the whole idea. She loathed the food I cooked, couldn’t understand a word I said in either French or English and spent the week buying up her body weight in sweets. It wasn’t her fault at all that she hated the whole experience but it certainly didn’t do anything for the entente cordiale. Worse still, when her father politely rang the following week to thank us for having Sabine to stay, he added: “Oh, and I hope you didn’t let her eat any sweets. I forgot to tell you that she isn’t allowed them at home.”
Image: François Schnell