En Français

Bonjour, et bienvenue au Palais de Westminster.
Yes, or rather, oui, I shall be back at the Palace of Westminster again on Saturday, but this time I shall be guiding in French.
It’s not a new departure. I studied French at university and spent the obligatory year abroad, before spending a large chunk of my life teaching French in London schools. Sometimes I still miss it; wild games of Lotto with the year 7s; the francophone corner of the staffroom which marked out the MFL department; writing letters to hotels for linguistically challenged colleagues.
The first tour of parliament I led in French nearly turned me into a nervous wreck. I had a very small group, a family on their first visit to London. They stared at me and at the building. No matter what I showed or told them, their faces maintained a granite aspect. By the time we reached the Commons, I was wishing the ground would open up and swallow me. They seemed to be hating every second.
After what seemed an eternity, we reached Westminster Hall where the tour ended. I said my goodbyes to them, ready to totter to the guides’ room and weep on the shoulder of any colleagues there.
The family reached out their hands to me, shook mine warmly, told me how much they had enjoyed the tour, what a privilege it had been to see the building, asked my advice on visiting the other main sites.
Revelation: they hadn’t been bored and indifferent, they had been taking it all in. They just hadn’t smiled.
So if you go on a guided tour, in any language, remember to smile at the guide from time to time and let her know you are enjoying it.
It helps. Believe me, it really helps.


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