They tell me one of the reasons French people are sometimes reluctant to speak English, even when they can, is a real fear of appearing ridiculous if they make a mistake. I can understand this. Every now and again I make a stupid and spectacular error in French that not only makes me appear ridiculous but that I know will be the subject of enormous glee and hilarity over French dinner parties for weeks, months maybe even years to come. It is usually one of those infamous "false friends" words that sound the same in both languages but mean something entirely different.
It has just happened again. I was tired, a bit stressed and pushed for time but even so; it was a ridiculous mistake to make. The directrice of La Fille's nursery had asked me about the miniature boxes of raisins I supply for La Fille's afternoon snack. They come from London and I buy them because they are 100% fruit with no glazing agents, oils or whatever and come in old-fashioned cardboard boxes. I told the directrice this. "Ils sont bon parce que ils ne sont pas couverts de préservatifs," I said. There was a momentary look of shock from all adults present and I felt my face contort into an embarrassed grimace as I realised my mistake. "Conservateurs," corrected the directrice quickly. What I had basically said was I liked the raisins because they didn't wear condoms.
There's no way back from a mistake like that. I laughed it off and so did everyone else - they were being polite - but even as I write this I am cringing.