Here is a photo of Vernazza, one of the five villages that makes up the Cinque Terre in Italy. I was there last month, walking the paths — often just some stones raised off the slanting ground to flatten it — between the five villages. I could go on about the pesto, the gelati, the welcoming atmosphere, or the loudness of children, but this is a blog about France, not Italy. So why am I mentioning Italy? Because it’s only through going to a country where none of my (two!) languages are spoken that I realised just how much improvement I’ve made in French. The Cinque Terre itself is full of American tourists even at low season, so getting around the five villages isn’t so difficult (and walking on the paths, you never know whether to say “hello”, “buon giorno”, “hola”, “guten tag” or “bonjour”). However, on the way to the Cinque Terre, I was in a restaurant where I wanted a fruit juice. I know the word in French, but not in Italian. None of the Italian staff knew the English or the French word, so I followed the staff to their drinks fridge and pointed. I ended up with iced tea. Apparently, juice is just not available in some restaurants in Italy. The language frustrations continued right up until we reached the border back to France: we stopped just before the Frejus tunnel to fill up with petrol (there was a petrol strike happening in France at the time). There was some problem with my bank card and the man said something in Italian. I asked if he spoke English. Nope. French? Yes. Result! We managed to establish that the card was fine but the machine’s connection sometimes played up, and fears that he was charging me twice were alleviated when he explained in French what the writing on the first cancelled receipt said. Thanks Italy — for the food, the welcome and for the reassurance that my French has improved more than I realised (but your kids really are very loud).