This sounds more controversial than it was. It was actually a very charming Frenchman, plus his wife and family, in the context of a whole-family French exchange.
But still, it was no small matter, to take all the kids to a town we had never heard of, to stay with a family as yet unknown to us, and expect them to get on with it, with barely 10 words of French between them.
The first night, they managed to stay up until 10pm, mainly playing with the other English kids, but also some French. No one argued when it was eventually time to go to bed, and the grown ups stayed up to converse with our hosts, the wheels of sociability oiled most amicably with lashings of fine French wine. All was right with the world despite our fearsome journey. The hosts were nice. We could communicate. (In fact they were more than nice, they were utterly charming, hospitable, generous in the extreme…they literally couldn’t have done more to make our stay comfortable and enjoyable and everything we wanted it to be.)
And so, the next morning, I was somewhat concerned to find all my children so overwhelmed with shyness that they didn’t want to get up. In all their nearly 6 years of life I have never known breakfast to be delayed beyond 8am. Yet here they were, hiding under the duvet, saying they didn’t want any. This was bad.
But the sound of a television filtered through their gloom, and like mosquitos to a light source, they began to inch towards it. The elder boy Thomas had been inspired to put on an English cartoon, and no one could resist for very long.
A little later, an array of chocolate-based cereals were presented, along with a basket brimming with pain au chocolats, and the combination, along with the jus de pomme, proved irresistible. A far more contented trio arose from the table a half hour later.
We had a thoroughly pleasant couple of days, joining in with their family life, barbeque-ing in the garden, watching a kids football match; riding a random trio of ponies; playing games in the park; eating all manner of treats, cooking our own crepes…
By Sunday night, all our 5 kids were outside in the garden until darkness fell, building dens, climbing trees, chasing each other, shouting and laughing… International divide well and truly bridged.
By Monday, there were tears on leaving, homemade cards exchanged, avowing their love for one another, and plaintive requests to either stay forever, or bring the boys home with us. An astonishing turn of events! And a quite brilliant outcome, to a curious enterprise. Tremendous.