Exchange- not always Fair

The cross channel ferry, in this last week of summer term is full of excitable teenagers; two groups, seemingly, occupying every part of the ship, circulating round and round, galumphing through the bars and lounges, spreading over seating areas, thronging into the tiny shop, the games area and the restaurant, exclaiming, playing music, shrieking when they see each other. They rush past us in twos and threes. ‘I wanna buy something!’ ‘Let’s go outside!’ ‘What shall we do now?’
After coffee we descend to the salon with its recliner seats to catch up on some sleep, but it is full of adolescents, rucksacks, sweet wrappers. We are rushed at by their beleaguered teachers, whose dubious pleasure it is to shepherd their charges and bring them back unscathed.
Foreign exchanges were available when I was a schoolgirl, too; only as my parents were unwilling to pay for them, I’d be among the handful of girls who stayed behind and attended school. I can’t recall what we did, we leftovers. Revision, perhaps or some extra language study and conversation. I pity the poor teachers who were saddled with us, who had to find us something to do!
I offered my own offspring an exchange each, which was rejected by Offspring One, who harboured fears of being incarcerated with a strange family and having to eat a sensible, healthy diet. He chose to be a leftover. Offspring Two, however waited for the optimum moment to remind me I’d agreed to a French exchange, then when I enquired the destination, coolly told me ‘Canada’.
The exchangee came to us first. Catherine. She was not Canadian, but American, from Texas originally. She was tall, world-weary, unimpressed. She was an ocean away from my daughter. We served meals, attempted chat, remained polite while she chewed and made acerbic remarks.
Husband suggested a weekend trip to Paris. We packed our tiny Peugeot 5 and took a ferry across the English Channel then drove down, stopping on the outskirts of France’s capital in a budget hotel and taking two rooms. We got a double decker train into Paris to take in the sights: The Louvre, The Tuilleries, Notre Dame and The Tour Eiffel-sending the girls up and staying down ourselves to save money. They trudged after us as if dragged on leads. Next day we visited Fontainebleau and Versailles before heading home the way we’d come.
On the return ferry we bought meals from the self-service restaurant, where Catherine [and also Offspring, who followed suit] chose a meal and a desert. At the table our protégé ate one or two mouthfuls of the meal and pushed it away before tucking into the pudding.
‘Are we gonna eat again on the ferry?’ she drawled, chewing.
Husband frowned into his newspaper. ‘No’ he said, without looking up.
At last we arrived at Portsmouth. ‘That was cool!’ she suddenly said as the wheels rumbled down the ramp, showing enthusiasm for the first time. If we’d known she was to enjoy our descent from the gaping mouth of the ferry so much we could have saved ourselves a packet.
We did nothing else with Catherine, leaving entertainment to the school to provide. Offspring confided that Catherine had raved and boasted to her classmates about her French trip.
After she departed, Offspring prepared to make her own visit to the host family-Catherine’s own parents and sister. I sat down with her to share my hopes for her ambassadorial role, expressing my desire that she behave with impeccable manners, a desire that she asserted she understood very well. She went.
Catherine’s parents were charming to my daughter, taking her out and about, to Niagara, amongst other places. Offspring got on very well with Catherine’s younger sister as well as most of the Canadian schoolgirls and had a most enjoyable time.
And that was that; many lessons learned-and not only French!

6 thoughts on “Exchange- not always Fair

  1. These days, when surrounded by marauding teenagers, I find it hard to repress how annoying, rude and inconsiderate I find them. Yet I know perfectly well there was a time when I was one of those high-spirited marauders and I meant no one else any harm.

    I never did an exchange. Very few people from our school did – the ones who went were more like leftovers. The idea of being marooned with strangers was absolutely terrifying to me. It still is now. Mostly at that time it would have been because of food. I was a vegetarian at a time when few people understood or respected the choice and I was more than once harassed or almost tricked into eating food that I could and would not. The idea of facing all that with a foreign language added and no back up was too much for me. Plus my French was so poor I would have been mute for a month.

    Sounds like the Catherine girl really enjoyed herself – but her reactions were filtered to the strange family and adults around her; a kind of protective defence or just natural teenageriness. .

    • Perhaps you are correct about Catherine. But she only needed to have uttered a quiet ‘Thank you’ to have made her presence more palatable to us-and there was no language barrier to hamper her as ther was for you!

      • True. I wonder how she looks back on it now. Perhaps she feels bad about being ungrateful.. You can hope! Or more likely, she never realised she was coming across that way. I’m conflicted because I dislike rudeness, but at the same time, I know I was misunderstood as a teen.

  2. That was hilarious – in little Perth, WA, at my high school with the bad reputation, exchanges never happened other countries being too far away! Exchanges didn’t happen at our children’s school either.

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