FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - NEWS - cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

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?

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