100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 28: My French Girlfriend – Part Two
By Dave Fox
“Dave, is that true?” the woman in my group asked.
The ferry was approaching from the fjord.
“No.” I raised my voice to announcement volume. “Everybody in my group: You are allowed to board as soon as the crew says you can.”
Other tourists, from other groups, from other countries, started looking my way for permission.
The Norwegian guide tried to quell my rebellion. She tried to instruct other passengers – hundreds of them – not to board, to let her people through.
I needed to get back to our bus. Foot traffic never had trouble getting on, but I had seen busses denied boarding before, even with advance reservations. Sometimes the car deck got too tight for them to fit. If a bus with no reservation managed to roll on undetected, and then get boxed in by vehicles behind it, the boat crew would shrug and make the bus with the reservation drive around and meet us at the next boat landing. It could delay us 45 minutes.
“You need to stay with your group,” the woman chastised. “You must stand here and count them as they get on.”
In a mob of 600 people, all about to stampede toward the prime seats, with my tour members mingled among them, she wanted me to accurately count my 28? I’d taken groups on this ferry at least 20 times. No tour guide did that – ever. Unless you had some sort of Rain Man superpower, it was impossible.
“I’m just going to give you a little professional advice,” she said, switching back to Norwegian. “I’m not just a tour guide, you see. I have been guiding tours for a very long time, and I also train younger, inexperienced guides. You need to pay closer attention to your group or you’re going to have problems. If someone misses the boat, you’ll have to pay for their taxi to Gudvangen, which is very expensive.”
She gloated, staring in a crisply pressed, blue and white pantsuit. I stood before her in a black T-shirt, and crumpled, white shorts with too many pockets.
The boat clunked against the pier. In just a moment they’d open the gate and let everyone storm aboard. I needed to get back to the bus.
“Well,” I smiled, “while I acknowledge you are considerably older than me, I have actually been guiding tours for many years myself. Our company trusts our clients to take care of themselves. We treat them like adults. We’re casual. They appreciate that about us.”
“We’re casual too!” she retorted. I squinted at her metallic name badge. I was starting to see a crack in her armor.
The crew member was at the gate now, about to hoist it and let us on – all of us – just like they always did things.
“Dave,” what should we do?” my concerned tour member asked.
Matthieu, our bus driver, was probably wondering what had happened to me. But I was going to have to risk it. Odds were greater this tour guide was going to cause a problem than the odds Matthieu wouldn’t get the bus on board.
As the crew member started to lift the gate, the guide flailed her arms, trying to get his attention, trying to explain her extremely important group had RESERVASJONER!
“You don’t need to worry,” the crew member shrugged. “I don’t think anyone else wants to sit in that room.”
It was too late. The bar that blocked our entry was up, and before any of my group could ask if it was okay to board, a swell came from behind, from 15 other tour groups who were there to see the fjords like us, and damn it, they were going to get good seats.
“Go!” I shouted to the people around me I could recognized. They went.
The guide raised her arms authoritatively. She tried to halt them but the masses flowed around her, leaving her standing on the pier, arguing with the crew member. I plowed upstream through the people, toward our bus, and jumped in the open door just as Mathieu started rolling to the car deck.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
* * *
A year later, I’d all but forgotten the incident when we were headed down the hill, back toward the same ferry dock.
“I wonder if we’ll see your French girlfriend this year?” Mathieu said to me.
“Who’s your French girlfriend?” a lady near the front asked.
“Yeah,” I said to Mathieu. “Who’s my French girlfriend?”
“Isn’t that where she was from? That tour guide last year?”
“Oh. No. She just spoke French.”
I guided a few more groups along the same route. Three years passed. Then in 2011, I hung up my guiding shoes with the company where I’d worked for 16 years. I never did see my French girlfriend again.
My guess is she retired. She seemed about ready. But in my mind, I have a different fantasy – of a bedraggled creature in a crisply pressed, blue and white pantsuit. She is laying on her back, steamroller flat, with a Wile E. Coyote gloss in her eyes, trampled by a thousand other tourists who had paid for their tickets too, and just wanted to see the fjords.
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