THERE is a curtain separating me from my neighbour in our shared room because I forgot to put I’d always like a single room on my medical insurance. It hasn’t been a problem as she’s a mild, inoffensive woman who appears to have had most of her arteries unblocked and is therefore suffering somewhat.
She watches TV from first thing to last via headphones while doing sudoku, and spends hours anointing herself with creams and potions in that peculiar French obsession.
She also talks back to the TV and, in the night, appears to have loads of conversations too. After the first two nights I got used to it, as you do. Fortunately no-one ever replied or I would have been out of here.
In our “wet room” her side has six different utensils for her hair, four toothbrushes, mouthwash and three body creams. My side has shampoo and shower soap, one moth-eaten toothbrush and toothpaste.
Before she uses a zimmer to head for the treadmill, she does a full makeup, spritzes herself with perfume and runs a lint brush over her hoodie.
I drag on whatever I took off yesterday, rub a brush through my hair and wrap a scarf three times around my neck. I stuff my phone, e-cigs and euros for the coffee machine in a pocket, et voila!
And so we have co-existed perfectly since I arrived. Until now.
Now I direct lasers towards her through the flimsy curtain. Every sniff she takes I cross my fingers to ward against the evil eye and I curse her under my breath with a shocking, disgraceful vehemence.
And all the poor woman – ha! – has done is to give me her cold.
I do not get colds. Sure my lungs may be shot but I never, ever get a cold.
Now I am in a miasma of misery, ordered to bed by the nurses, unable to continue my daily quota of exercises and therefore probably guaranteeing another bloody week here. Plus I have to endure the indignity of spitting into tissues so they can examine my sputum to check for infection. Ah sweet God, that it should come to this.
It’s not just my neighbour I hate as a result of this. I hate all the bloody French I’m incarcerated with.
Each swipe of their bread to clean their plates sees me fight against slapping their wrists. Actually each lifting of yet another chunk of bread to their mouths makes me want to scream: “Greedy buggers!”
Why, why, must they have bread at every meal? Why do they think it’s polite to mop up their plates and save bread to do so?
Why do they think every bit they shove in their mouth has to be utterly superb just because it’s French?
And why with each vegetable, for example haricots verts, do they ask if we have them too? Yes, and I hated them there too.
Why do they never use side plates? Why do they use the same knife and fork for every course?
All of this is mildly interesting to me in amidst the seething cauldron of hatred that I’m bubbling along in.
I realise that this is actually the first time I’ve lived in such close proximity day after day with a large number of my fellow countrymen and, even more interestingly, I don’t like many of them.
Apart from a couple, mainly staff, they have been kind, uninterested and uncaring. That’s OK – we are in rehab after all, each with our own problems.
The two who’ve made it plain they don’t like foreigners have their own reasons and, actually, they don’t bother me. If anything it’s amusing to see their cold stares and hear their muttered asides.
No, it is, if anything, the belated recognition of how very different we are in our reactions and responses.
I appreciate my curiosity about others could be regarded as excessive but I am discovering the maddening fact of French indifference to others.
Initially I thought it was just my neighbours who showed no interest in the workings of their fellow men and decided it was a rural thing.
Then I thought it was the result of the French obsession with privacy and settled with that.
Now after almost three weeks among a wide variety of people from all over the country, I’ve concluded – in a sweeping generality – that the French care only for themselves and nobody else.
They have no interest in the lives of others beyond their immediate family; no real interest in the world beyond; no need to travel and learn how others think, eat, worship, even think of them.
They have no interest because they know, without doubt, their country is the best, the greatest, the only place to be born on the entire planet.
And how can one argue with that without being run out of town?
You can’t because, hey, what would you know? You have not been nurtured in the cradle of civilisation.
So, there you have it. My hatred is festering along with my cold.
Once it’s gone I’ll get back to a sort of normality. Maybe. Or have I just uttered my real thoughts and the time has come?