“Okay, papa is over there, by the migrant camp. We didn’t pay for parking and there’s police around, so he stayed in the car. Let’s go…?”

“I’m ready.”

“I wanna swim!”

“Feng and Mark, take your bags, I’ll meet you downstairs. Maman?

Oui, oui… tell your dad to come up, we gotta catch your sister’s cat. I think it’s hiding in the closet.”

“For Christ’s sake…! Fine. I take Feng and Mark to the car and I send you papa.”

We were supposed to leave for Saint-Michel around 12:30 p.m. I went to get the car with my dad—it’s on a free parking lot a thirty-minute walk from home—while my mom was taking a shower and getting ready and now it’s…

… yeah, 2 p.m.


My parents finally manage to catch the cat and it meows all the way to the parking lot. Poor thing, little does he know it’s about to spend the next 45 minutes on my mom’s lap, next to Mark who keeps on trying to pet it through the soft-sided carrier.

“Did you lock the door?”


“Do we have everything?”

I hope so. The five of us plus a couple of bags and the cat can barely fit into the small car. My dad is driving, Feng is sitting at the front with his bag and groceries we are bringing. Mark, my mom, the cat and I are in the back seat with our respective bags.

“I… I forgot something,” my mom says twenty minutes later.

“What? Is it important?”

“The house keys.”


“It’s not too bad this time,” my dad notes casually. “Normally, we realize it when we’re in front of the house.”

I sigh again. It’s 3 p.m. I should stop looking at the time, after all, it doesn’t really matter when we get there.

I mean, as long as we do get there before sunset.

As long as we do get there, period.

It’s another hot day in Nantes and I’m looking forward to cooling off at the seaside. I haven’t been to Saint-Michel—where I spent most of my summers with my grandparents as a kid—since last year.

The thing is, going to Saint-Michel is a lot of work—and so is staying there for a few days.

Feng, Mark and I are used to travelling. We pack and go, no big deal. My parents are… ahem, less efficient. Besides, since the house is empty except for a few weekends a year when my parents or other family members use it, we have to bring everything we will need because there aren’t many shops around. The one and only supermarket is small. It’s high season, shelves are often empty.

I don’t want to get there too late because I know that we can’t just drop off the bags and head to the beach. We’re gonna have to clean the house, make the beds, shop and complete other miscellaneous tasks. The house is old and it’s falling apart. Lights, buttons and many appliances are old, broken or work weirdly.

“Is… is there enough gas to get there?” I suddenly ask my dad.

Oui oui.”

It wouldn’t be the first time we run out of gas between Nantes and Saint Michel.

By the time we get there, the sun is gone—not because we’re late but because the weather is capricious around here, welcome to Brittany.

While my mum s unpacking and cleaning, I walk to Tharon, the town next to Saint-Michel, where there’s an acceptable bakery. I’m in France, I need fresh bread and viennoiseries. Then I go to the town’s supermarket and buy as much as I can carry.

My dad and I still have to drive to Pornic, the closest bigger town, to buy fresh sardines we’re planning to grill.

“Oh, well, since you’re smoking in the car…” I note, lighting up a cigarette. “How do you change the radio station?”

“This button. Then you kind of hope for the best. Oh, shit… the police.”

“The band? Oh… oh yeah.”

I see them too, on the right side of the roundabout, the blue gendarmerie van. But hey, we are a father and a daughter going to the supermarket in an old car, nothing terribly unusual or unlawful. We’re wearing seatbelts and my dad is a good driver, he didn’t do anything wrong.

Shit. We’re getting pulled over.

“I don’t have the registration papers,” my dad tells me as he’s stopping the car.

“Where are they?”

“My dad’s place. I… forgot to take them.”

The old car belongs to… well, I’m not quite sure who’s the legal owner, someone on my dad’s side. My grandfather supervises which one of his “kids” takes it. My dad borrowed it to pick us up from the airport ten days ago.

“Probably not that big of a deal. It’s not exactly a car worth stealing…”

“I don’t have my driver’s licence either. I didn’t take anything with me,” my dad admits.

Papa! Okay, let me speak.”

Monsieur, madame… Get out of the vehicle, please.”

We step out.

“I don’t have the registration papers. And I forgot my driver’s licence,” my dad blurts out.

Oh boy…

“It’s my fault,” I continue. “I rushed him to go to the supermarket, it’s closing soon.”

The gendarme gives us a stern look. “Move to the side. Where do you live?”


“You drove all the way to Pornic without your driver’s licence?!”

“No, no! We’re staying in Saint-Michel, we just… left everything there.”

He walks around the car and looks at us again. “Just… just go.”

My dad and I hurry back into the car and drive away.

“Maybe we should take another road on the way back.”

“Good idea.”

After getting lost ten times, we finally go back to Saint-Michel with sardines and everything we need for the next couple of days.

Then, and only then, I finally start to relax.

Feng and I walk to the beach.

The light is amazing.

It was worth it.


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  1. Martin Penwald July 30, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Seriously, what did you do to get pulled over by the poulets? Unless you flip them the finger or aren’t white enough, why would they chase you?

    1. Zhu July 30, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      NOTHING! For real. We were wondering as well, it looks like they were stopping all the old cars… maybe they were looking for something or someone?

  2. isa August 3, 2018 at 4:21 am

    They’re stopping old cars to see if the contrôle technique is still ok. We’ve been pulled over quite a lot recently!
    That said I realize I’d be a shitty travel companion because I can’t deal with delays and lack of effeciency byy travel mates. Just reading it made me tense!
    Enjoy the sea.. and the sardines!!

    1. Zhu August 4, 2018 at 4:20 pm

      Ah, thank you for the explanation!

      Yeah, I’m relatively efficient as well, I pack and go. That said, I have years of practice!

  3. I Say Oui August 3, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Ah, going out with people who have a different sense of time… The stories I could tell.

    Saint-Michel-Chef-Chef is an interesting name! Looks beautiful.

    1. Zhu August 4, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      I know this is a rhetoric sentence, but I’d be interested in hearing your stories!

  4. Pingback: Possibly the Most Cliché French Day Ever

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