Photo by Petr Kratochvil

This afternoon I had my first surreal phone call for quite a long while. Surreal phone calls are a standard part of expat life when you’re in a country whose native tongue isn’t yours.

I answered the phone and was immediately subject to a minute or so of rapid machine gun fire in French. The only word I could catch at all to give me some context of what it was all about was my son’s name, Benjamin Dagg. Finally the verbal onslaught stopped so I politely explained that I didn’t have a flipping clue what she was on about so could she please start again, and go slower this time. I had caught clear annoyance in the tone so rolled my eyes and steeled my nerves in readiness for a dressing down of some sort, though for what I still had not the remotest idea. However my plea for a retrial in slow motion obviously enraged my caller even more and she just carried on from where she’d left off, if anything slightly faster.

I focused hard and soon picked up that this whole tirade was about a cheque for five euros and that Benjamin wasn’t inscrit (signed up) at the Fac because of said cheque being annoying. My accoster was someone at the Fac. I continued to ask for clarification, saying that I still did not really know what she was talking about. There was a loud inhalation of breath at the other end of the line and I was firmly told that I should never write something like bonjour on a cheque, or other such frivolous words.

By now I was gazing at the phone in total and utter confusion. A, I hadn’t written a cheque for €5: B, I wasn’t even there when Benj signed up at the FAc on Tuesday, and C, I have never, never written ‘hello’ in any language on any cheque I have ever drawn! I mean, have you?

Realising this allegedly and cheerily defaced cheque was at the root of this obviously horrendous problem, I offered to send a replacement one for €5 and asked for the address to send it to. Another outraged derogatory outburst. I was getting a little narked by now, as you can probably imagine, so said how about I get my son to call in and deal with the issue since, after all, it was he who had supplied this troublesome cheque and, more usefully, he was in Limoges. She saw the value of this but was still in a tizz and cut me off firmly.

I got onto our Benj. I think I woke him up, even though it was 2.30pm! I gave him my vague understanding of cheque-based events and told him to get to the Fac and sort this out since it appeared to be a matter of life and death. Benj wasn’t very keen and suggested going tomorrow but I was firm and instructed him to go now and then get back to me to explain what the heck was actually going on. Benj duly dragged himself across town but texted later to say that he’d been to several different offices at the Fac and they’d all been perfectly happy with his inscription and apparently had no problem with his means of payment.

Talking this over with Chris, he reminded me that as with any unreasonable phone call, I should have asked for the name of the person making it so we could follow up. That’s good advice but in the confusing heat of the moment hadn’t occurred to me so none of us has any idea who the upset woman was. But we soon came to the only conceivable conclusion that this whoever-she-was must have mistaken Benj’s signature on the cheque for ‘bonjour’. He has a quirky writing style so Benj Dagg could have been misinterpreted. And she seemed to be under the impression that I’d written the cheque so was looking for my signature. Presumably when she calmed down and had another look at the offending cheque, Mme Rudeness realised her mistake and so when Benj arrived on the scene, everything was hunky dorey. No one, of course, will ever admit this or apologise!

So, mystery probably solved. At least, let’s hope so!