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Hum together

Occasionally there are moments - only moments - when foreigner and native come together in rare, shared warmth that transcends all cultural differences.

It is rare because all our touchstones, our memories, our repetitive jokes, are shaped by the place we were raised and our natural focus on our own country.

So we can have good French friends, attend boisterous soirees in honour of this saint or that chasse, even chat fluently as the old vin rouge flows.

We can tell the odd joke and pathetically crave a response. We can chivvy each other on politics; have a grouse about the social charges and Hollande; even discuss aspects of our past and present lives with much nodding of heads.

But, but … the sometimes comforting, sometimes disconcerting click of instant recognition during conversation is just not there. There is no eye caught across a table in anticipation of the same narrative leading to a conclusion we both know off by heart.

We'll never understand the laughter that always greets a particular rambling song here where we all link arms and go: "Aha … haha haha," while rising to our feet at the end of each verse.

All attempts to explain it end with the neighbours spluttering through tears of semi-hysteria which fall more copiously when faced with the rigid smile of the desperately-trying-to-grasp-it Anglos.

Of course it would be the same trying to explain the magic of Morecambe and Wise while doing the Bring Me Sunshine dance and hopping down the Salle des Fetes slapping the back of one's head and jiggling one's spectacles.

Or, even worse, explaining the broad outline of Blackadder.

Try that in a foreign language bringing in irony, class divisions, sarcasm, old school references, ancient history. Impossible.

For it's not only what is being said - it's all the flashbacks triggered by a catchphrase or a song. Again memories. Of where you were, who with, when and why?

Smells, food, clothes, shoes, houses, parents, children. Life. Our life, in a song or a popular phrase.

So, it was with some surprise that I found myself crooning (croaking) a tune about Connemara with five French folk last night at a delayed Thanksgiving Dinner eight kilometres from here.

And for several minutes, as the table of twenty hushed on hearing our gentle humming of a seemingly old tune, we were united in a rather lovely common purpose.

We were together in a large Gers farmhouse owned by Dutch friends who live half the time in America.

Candles led us to our seats at a table stretching way down the tiled hall. Paintings and sculptures under clever lights gave us pause as others walked on to different rooms.

Introductions were made, vin chaud served and French and English eyed each other warily while semi-skirting each other.

All lived in the area but all were incomers and had fascinating stories of how they ended up here.

I met a man who once created fur coats in Cannes; a woman who was a poetess and hated becoming plump after stopping smoking; a Swedish air hostess, chatelaine of a chateau; a couple of professors.

All talked of leaving cities for holidays and stumbling across the perfect house for them in Tarn et Garonne. None regretted their choice. But then I think all were rather well-heeled.

And somehow we started to talk of Ireland because it had been made plain I was Irish.

To be Irish or Scottish is always better. I often play both cards.

Had I seen a particular documentary about a famous French singer and Connemara? Nope, French aerial not repaired since the March storm and, yes, still waiting.

But I could talk about The Quiet Man, which my son and I play every Christmas Eve and sync the dialogue because we know every word.

Eyes lit up … Mooooreeen O'Hara. Jean Wayne. Yes, yes.

And so (and one person was a former opera singer) I found myself humming along with all the others the multiple songs from the movie.

How wonderful we all knew this old movie gifted to me by my mother and here we were bonded together in humming paradise.

When Robert began and Didier and the others joined in, I trilled along, give or take a note or two.

At the end as we smiled at each other, I realised we were having that rare moment of empathy between us.

People clapped at the far end of the table as we sat back in our chairs and once more, just smiled at each other.

Excited about that, much later, I went on to my computer.

I listened to Michel Sardou singing Les Lacs De Connemara which is what came up when I put in French singers and Ireland. Bugger. I thought I was singing/humming something similar to do with Inishfree with Miss O'Hara. It sounds almost the same , but not quite.

It seems we were singing very different songs but for once they weren't too far apart.

And so long as we sing, sort of together, and occasionally catch an eye we will be OK.

It's tough living here.

But sometimes it's fine.

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