Until last weekend, we had an eighteen year-old staying in our spare bedroom. Charlotte is the daughter of my best friend in Scotland and her plans for a gap year in Nepal fell through at the last minute due to that pesky Marxist coup. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about a teenage girl we hardly know staying with us for a whole month. However, I needn't have worried because she turned out to be the ideal house guest — she was in class studying French all day and out most evenings doing whatever it is that eighteen-year-olds do nowadays. When she was here she was a pleasure to have around.
I was constantly reminded of how much things have moved on since I was eighteen and came to work in France for the first time. In those days (can you hear my voice going reedy and see my body leaning lower over my walking stick?) I used to save up five-franc pieces for my weekly call home from a draughty phone box. Our broadband provider gives us free calls to just about anywhere in the world so Charlotte could call home any time she liked. Apart from the occasional letter, I was out of touch with my friends back home for almost all of the time that I was in France; Charlotte kept in touch with her friends through Facebook and text messages. I used to save up and buy the occasional English-language newspaper, Charlotte could have read any newspaper she liked on the internet. I went home after three months to discover that there were lots of new adverts and series on TV, Charlotte could have watched English-language television to her heart's delight via satellite (had we a satellite dish, hint, hint), cable (had she wanted to suffer through reruns of Dad's Army and The Good Life) and of course copious downloading.
I'll stop there before I get to the "well we lived in a shoebox in a cess pit" line from Monty Python. I suppose that what I'm saying is that it's actually much more difficult nowadays to achieve the total immersion effect in a foreign language.
Charlotte is off to New Zealand next month — I suppose the Maoris have broadband too.