Jennifer Lopez claimed that her love “don’t cost a thing”. A hug from a strange man at a Strasbourg tram stop however, costs €2.
Last Thursday, I was at a tram stop waiting to go home from work with two of my trainees. A man approached us. He had his hand out, but with his fist closed, so it wasn’t clear if he was begging. He was wearing a dark tracksuit, and it wasn’t clear whether he was homeless or just sporty.
He started talking in a language none of us understood. It wasn’t French. One of the trainees tried speaking to him in Arabic. This displeased him, so she desisted.
He continued to talk to us and gesture oddly. I wasn’t feeling at all charitable, but I reached into my pocket and took out the first non-copper coin I could find. Curses! It was a whole €2! And he’d seen it, so I’d have to give it to him.
He seemed to find the fact that I was giving him money funny. When one of my trainees gave him 10 cents, he seemed even more amused.
He gestured at the second trainee who was with us, who – quite wisely – didn’t give him anything at all. He continued talking in this foreign language and gesturing with his hand to us.
Did he need help? Or was this an elaborate prank? Or maybe a really slow kidnapping attempt? A seduction? A warning? A drunkard’s rambling?
After another minute or so of this carry-on, he returned the 10 cents. He came towards me. I presumed he was going to give me my €2 back. No. Instead he have me a rather affectionate hug.
I’m generally a fan of hugs. But when the person is a stranger, when they have your money, when they could be a heroin addict or a street performer, I’m less keen on the idea overall.
I got on the tram, €2 poorer and with a vaguely interesting story to tell.
My last week in Strasbourg was a little anti-climactic. The weather persisted in being Offaly-esque. The course maintained its aura of haphazardly-organised panic till the last day. My toilet functioned flawlessly. And I never met my landlord.
My focus did return to Project Connor, thanks in no small part, to a little old lady.
Every CELTA course must be assessed externally by Cambridge. Because this was the first ever course in Strasbourg, we had to have a long assessment and the assessor was one of the Joint Chief Assessors, a little old lady, who I will call Fedora.
Fedora is young-looking for a lady in her sixties. She endeared herself from the early morning of the first day of her visit, mainly by using bad language, in the way I imagine a maiden aunt who’s hit the sherry would. She used the F-word in such an arch and obviously naughty way, that you couldn’t help but love her.
Our assessment was successful, somewhat to my disbelief. As is the custom, we took the assessor out for dinner on the Tuesday night of last week.
It was a pleasant meal, during which we learnt that Fedora was wearing ecru (I didn’t know it was a colour either) to her daughter’s wedding.
At one stage during the meal, she referred to me as a “big fellow”. My hackles were raised. My guard was up. After another drink I was “large”.
When I finished my main course before the others, she commented again. I knew this woman wasn’t going to leave me alone.
I broke and mentioned that I planned to lose weight when I got to England. She was delighted. She took this as licence to discuss my weight for the next hour.
It was a relief when the conversation later turned to the case of a murder in Fedora’s neighbourhood.
You might ask why the woman felt the need to talk about my weight for an hour. Well, in my experience, and not to generalise or anything, but old people are horrid.
The only people in my life who have ever brought the subject of my weight up in conversation without a clear reason to do so are all over 60. I can easily think of three different “senior” citizens who did so more than once.
On Wednesday, Fedora continued to throw my weight into the conversation, but generally in harmless enough ways.
She had done the real damage when she told a story about a toilet on Tuesday night.
“Not another toilet story, Connor!”
“Yes, children, another toilet story.”
Here goes. Fedora’s husband had been going to WeightWatchers. Now, he’s nothing as heavy as Connor. Yes, she said that. As I specified earlier she was old and, therefore, horrid.
He was inspired to lose weight after a visit from a friend, who is very overweight. After the friend had left the house, Fedora and her husband had to call the plumber. Their toilet had stopped working.
The plumber asked if a “larger person” had used the toilet. “Yes!” they exclaimed, no doubt excited at the prospect of ratting a fatty out. The plumber told them that the weight of this “larger” person had dislodged the pedestal of the toilet from the floor.
Fedora related this tale with much gaiety, while we were on dessert course. My boss and my colleague exchanged glances. I blushed. My boss said, “That’s a rather unfortunate story. Connor broke a toilet last week.”
Aaaargh?!? I didn’t break the toilet! I was left complex instructions concerning the delicacy of the apparatus and the need for its regular relaunchings. It was clearly on its last legs.
And anyway, even if I did break it, it wasn’t by dint of knocking the thing off the floor with my massive weight. At no point did the toilet pedestal become dislodged. The cheek!
I wasn’t about to defend myself, but I do have a horrible feeling that I’ll be forever known throughout France as Connor Toiletbreaker. I guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
It is true that I’d gained a lot of weight in my last French fortnight. I didn’t have access to weighing scales but I have my measuring tape and the news is bad.
Neck: 16.75 inches/ 42.6 cm (down)
Arm: 15.5 inches/ 38.8 cm (up)
Chest: 50.5 inches/ 128 cm (up)
Waist: 55.5 inches/ 141.3 cm (up two inches)
Thigh: 28 inches/ 71 cm (same)
Two inches on my waist. Hopefully gone by the time I leave Merrie England.
I had good news in my last week in France. I’ve got funding for the next 2 years of my PhD, which is very good. But don’t worry, my financial situation is still precarious, so doubtless there’ll be more disasters to come on that front.
I have lots of other news, including my first impressions of England to post. Next entry coming soon.