La vie elegante

ON OUR last morning in Chiang Mai, I watch from our balcony as the French couple eat their breakfast on the terrace below. They have been at the next table to ours for the last three days, ordering extra tea and coffee at each sitting.

He is slender and silent, serious-faced. She is more animated, small and stylish, talking with her hands, occasionally running her fingers through her thick, luxurious hair, cut in a rough, boyish style. He does all the listening, nodding and replying now and then in monosyllables, looking around the terrace at the other diners, poker-faced, like a character in a Graham Greene novel.

This morning she butters her toast with pinpoint accuracy, holding it with the long slender fingers of her left hand, spreading the butter and then the conserves with a knife held, like a pen or a paintbrush, in her right hand. She works it evenly across the surface of the little square of bread, coaxing it neatly into each corner. And then she pauses, looking at this little perfect tile of breakfast, regarding it in her hand, her little finger slightly raised.

Then she dips her hand, like the long neck of a swan - so that a corner of the toast slips momentarily into her black coffee - and brings it back to her mouth, biting off a perfect quarter circle.

Don't you just love the French?