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bonjour-french-cafe-and[1]

I was sitting nursing a café-au-lait outside a sad little café-cum-restaurant in a village in the middle of nowhere. But this was French nowhere, so it was surrounded by beautiful, verdant countryside. On the blackboard on the wall facing me, that day’s menu, the plat du jour, was scrawled in barely legible letters which I was trying to decipher. Yigal had gone off to attend to some business, so for a few brief moments I was alone.

A man of middling height, middling age and middling appearance emerged from the café, stood in the entrance, and fixed his gaze on me. This being rural France, where it is only polite to acknowledge others, whether one has been formally introduced or not, I gave him a little nod and an even smaller smile and returned to my attempts to read the menu on the wall.

The usual expression used here for meeting and greeting is bonjour, or even bonsoir, if it happens to be night-time, but no such words were exchanged between myself and the man, who continued to stare at me in silence.

I should point out at this stage that although I may have been young and reasonably attractive once, those days are far behind me, and my face, not to mention my body, betrays my advanced age with lines and wrinkles in all the usual places.

After a few moments the man spoke. “Boze yo,” he said. My French is far from perfect, but I am familiar with the customary ways of opening a conversation, and this was not one of them.

“???????????” I said.

“Boze yo,” he repeated, then pointed to his eyes, adding the French equivalent of ‘you have nice eyes.’

It’s a good few years since men would try to strike up a conversation with me in public places, and I’m afraid I’m somewhat out of practice at the art of dealing with advances of that kind. But even in my unaccomplished old age I sensed that there was something seriously wrong here.

Yigal was nowhere in sight. In fact, no living creature could be seen anywhere around. The man emerged from the doorway and sat down at my table. Alarm bells started going off in my head.

It’s best to humour this kind of person, I decided, and pretended to be flattered by his compliment (well, I really was flattered, so I didn’t have to do much pretending), at the same time protesting politely, saying that I had reached an advanced age, and was even a grandmother.

“Oh, everyone’s a grandparent these days,” he replied. “I am, too.”

I nodded sympathetically, as one does in these situations, and we sat for a few moments in silence while I waited tensely for what was to come next.

At that moment Yigal reappeared, and so, after bidding my table companion a polite farewell, I was able to make my escape.

“Who were you talking to?” Yigal asked as we walked away.

“I suppose it must have been the village idiot,” I replied. “After all, who else is going to come right out and say what they think?”

But I thought to myself, even a compliment from the village idiot is something to treasure when you’re past seventy.

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