Now I haven't ever asked any French people whether this is true, but they do seem to have quite the knack for detecting tourists and, above all, English tourists. And this knack was demonstrated no more effectively at a truckers' roadside restaurant over eleven years ago just north of Lyon.
Back in 1994 or so, my parents were highly avid caravanners, and they would, every year, pack half the contents of the house into a Sprite Musketeer and hook it up to the back of my father's Renault Laguna or Ford Mondeo or whatever he drove at the time and we would go dragging across the UK and Europe and live for two weeks in a tin box in an officially sanctioned field somewhere in Provence or the Ruhr valley or Holland surrounded by other early-middle-aged couples and their almightily bored looking spawn...
But I digress. On one such epic drag down the autoroute we stopped for lunch just north of Lyon at an establishment entitled "Chez Kiki," which was providing a most tempting invitation to treat: specifically, a six-course meal for just 35 francs. I don't need to mention the 10/1 FF/£ exchange rate of the time to tell you that this appeared an extremely good deal. So, we disengaged and dragged round the back, parking between two HGVs, and entered.
We were met by the individual who could unmistakably have been Kiki of the joint's name - a wiry-looking middle aged Frenchwoman with a face like a slapped behind. Upon noticing us, her lips thinned and she motioned us to sit down for the six-course, prix-fixé, service non compris spectacular. Now, in French restaurants, in my experience at least, it's not uncommon to have set meals for a very reasonable price, so smelled a rat we did not. But Kiki had appeared to have detected our aura of English touristness (incidentally, the French have a very uncomplimentary term for British day-trippers to Calais, and that term is les fuck-offs) and with us seated, she thrust an unlabelled bottle of red wine onto the table with an audible slap, and went back to schmoozing with a large party of very animated and very temulent truckers, several of whom had T-shirts commemmorating their part in Opération Escargot of the previous year. These shirts consisted of a stylised despiction of tanks struggling to pull the lorries out from blocking the autoroute and the chains snapping.
So, sooner or later, Kiki returned to our table (which was situated comfortably clear of the large party of 20 or so truckers) and presented us with some sort of potato soup. It was not the best potato soup I have ever sampled. In fact, it was quite foul. Having downed this rather clammy concoction, Kiki soon served us up Course Two.
Which was a plateload of uncooked radishes each.
There is not a single person alive that I know that could manage to ingest fifteen to nineteen uncooked radishes and enjoy it. Thus, ever the diplomat, my mother swept them into her handbag in order to avoid insulting Kiki into serving us up anything even more foul next. Later, she dumped them outside behind a large Norbert Dentressangle truck and to this day Kiki probably serves up any foulsome tourists with a crop of homegrown root vegetables from this very bush.
So on to course three, which was steak. Rare. To French standards. We managed to actually get through some of this, even though it probably still had a pulse.
Course four was dessert, which was some sort of tart, as far as I recall (not Kiki's daughter, you dirty-minded individual!) and course five was the uneventful cheeseboard. And so, with the coffee that came after that, we said "Au revoir" back to Kiki, prompting the sort of "Au revoir" in response that, in a Les Bidochon cartoon strip would probably be accompanied by a sketch of a knife being driven into something. And we dragged off to the campsite.
Now don't get me wrong, this is not representative of French roadside cafés the country over, but YMMV. I have stayed with French people on exchange programmes and they are extremely amusing. Only they do seem to get rather arsy about tourists (probably because of day-trippers to Calais and booze cruisers and football hooligans and the other dreck that invades their country from the UK), and I think because we were a family of three, and we arrived towing a caravan, they had us marked from the start. Needless to say, from then on, whenever we were dragging through France and needed to stop for lunch in the future, we held on for the service station.
And as for Kiki? Well, she probably tells her trucker friends to this day about the trio of lost-seeming tourists that deposited their 35FF back in 1994 and how she stiffed them with yesterday's soup and raw radishes and E.coli on a plate, and the truckers all slap their knees and imbibe more plonk.