Growing up in Wokingham, Berkshire, a small town in southern England, Lucy Howard quickly realised that wasn't where she wanted to stay. Luckily she had a gift for languages and that offered an escape route. "I went to the University of East Anglia in Norwich where I read French and German. Even better I had to take a third language and I chose Japanese." After graduation - just two days after quitting the examination hall, she remembers - Lucy was on a plane to France. "I'd split my year abroad at UEA between Corsica and Munich and I decided that a warm place in France was what I wanted. Anyway, I was lucky and landed a job in an accounts office in Cannes. No, it wasn't easy but I realised I'd chosen the right country and the right region. The Côte d'Azur was where I wanted to be."
"Antibes delivers on its promises"
But Japanese still exerted a pull. "That's right, and I felt a need to get my Japanese up to a higher level so I went off to spend several months on an intensive language course. Not in Tokyo but in a small town where I lived with a family and got to understand the people much better. That's not easy. If you think the French are complicated you've not tried to understand the Japanese. Their concept of politeness means they almost never say what they really mean and that's a challenge. I got to like them and one day I'll probably go back."
"After Japan I did some travelling and then had to go back to Wokingham for a while to deal with family business after my father died. I was still sure the Côte d'Azur was where I wanted to be and I sent out a shoal of CVs especially to local tourist offices. By chance, I hit the target in Antibes. They were looking for someone with English, French and German and so I slotted in well. That was nearly three years ago. I started on the public information desk and that's the best way to learn. And yes I did rather enjoy the surprised reaction of Japanese visitors when I greeted them in their own language. Finally, I started to wear a T-shirt which - a bit immodestly, I suppose - announced this particular linguistic ability.
"When I'd become quite an expert on Antibes I was appointed assistant press officer which means I deal with visiting journalists. I'm really delighted to be helping to promote the town. I've come to love the place with its wonderful mixture of the modern and the picturesque. I just never tire of the old town. There are some places I've been to that don't really live up to their hype but Antibes delivers on its promises. A highlight of our year, of course, is the jazz festival - now in its forty-seventh edition - which is a world class event of its kind. It takes place in Juan-les-Pins, as you know, and here at the tourist office on Place de Gaulle we treat both towns as a single product which is what they really are."
So how does the girl from Wokingham see her future? "Well, I do sometimes think I might go back to Japan for a while to pursue my interest in the language and culture. After the antibois, they're the people I like best of all. But essentially I feel that here I've found my perfect place. Of course, I'm English and some part of me will always belong to Wokingham but with every year that passes I feel closer to the community here. Almost all my friends are French and - maybe it's a fantasy - I'd like to be taken for French myself. Even if that's not very likely, this is where I want to spend the rest of my life."
From Riviera Reporter 122, Aug/Sept 2007