I was in Geneva airport. It was a nine-hour layover. At night.
Not the most exciting or exotic of travel experiences.
And yet, in some ways, one of my favourites.
Because everywhere around me, people were speaking French. And something about doing that all the time makes me feel like I’m at home, in a way that nothing else quite can.
I speak English the vast majority of the time nowadays. But there was a time when I was surrounded 95% of the time by French speakers, when despite living in London I wasn’t actually speaking English at all, really.
I lived in the quartier français. I worked in a shop which catered mainly to French people. My colleagues were French. My friends were French. Three times a week, I’d traipse up to Kilburn or Wembley to meet up with a larger group of francophones. All my computers, phones, calendars, notes to myself were in French.
It was like being in a little bubble of France, right here in the UK.
I’ve never actually been to France, which is ridiculous. I’ve been briefly to the port in Calais on my way to Bruges. I’ve whipped through France on the Eurostar on my way to Amsterdam.
But I’ve never actually stopped off there. Never been to Paris, never wandered through a vineyard, never visited the places my family is from, where some of my relatives no doubt still live.
My family is from Besançon and the Loire Valley. Those who aren’t from there are from Napoli, another place I’ve never been. But French has always been the language of my deepest thoughts, the language I think in when I’m too tired to think in English, the language in which I’ll sometimes find a word and then just won’t be able to translate it.
I used to love that I lived in French, even if I wasn’t living in France.
And a couple of weeks ago, in Geneva airport, I loved being surrounded by my language again.
I think I might need to move to France for a while.
Or, you know, at least visit it.