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The Characters of My Travels: Eliza Doolittle in Provence

She sat in the corner of the bar, her face flushed with drink underneath her mop of gray shaggy hair. I paid little attention to her as we plopped down at the bar.  We greeted Laurence, the bar owner, who we’d met a few days after our arrival in Pignans. The other customers perked up as they heard our not-French accents, and we soon had a buzz around us. Everyone wanted to know what an American family was doing in Provence before the grapevines and lavender began to bloom (the usual tourist attractions in the summer).

Laurence jerked his head toward the corner: “Elle parle anglais.”

Inwardly I groaned. It was a pet peeve of mine to be coerced into speaking English when we were there to practice our French. Still, I turned around graciously to say hello to the middle-aged woman in the corner.

“‘Ello. ‘Ow are ya?”

I was blustered, that’s how I was. I was expecting a local who wanted to practeese hair Ainglish wizz ze Americanes. Who was this Brit who blended in with her surroundings? And could she sound any more like Eliza Doolittle??

We began the dance of foreigners getting to know one another.


Me: “Where are you from?”

Eliza Doolittle: “Here.”

Me: “Oh, you’ve lived here a while. But where are you originally from?”

[She finally understood.]

Eliza sipped her rosé: “Oh. I am from Fréjus.”

For those of you less familiar with geography, Fréjus is not located in England, or any other English-speaking country, for that matter. It’s exactly 55 kilometers from Pignans.

Me: “Are you not British? You sound British!”

Eliza grinned, a bit evilly, in my mind, and proceeded to explain how she’d spent some time in Manchester, and then taught English in France. Thus her impeccable non-continental British accent. She had none of the eagerness of the French we’d met who wanted to fumble with their English with us. She sat back in her rickety chair, a regal British queen ready to accept our gift of conversation in her second language.

Threw me for a loop, let me tell you. Just goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover, or a person by her accent.

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