by Jules Older
I studied the French tapes. I bought the French software. I even took the French immersion course. I was ready.
I pictured in my French mind just how I'd sound when I reached Paree.
“Allo, mon beautiful amie. Although thees weel be hard to believe, I was not born een votre country. Despite my accent parfait and beret adorable, je suis actuel un Americain.”
To which the chic blonde sitting at the next table in the charming outdoor café would reply, “Zut alors! I — I thought you were French! Your accent, your beret, your foul-smelling cigarette … would you like to come to my pied a terre and see my Impressionists?”
That’s what I pictured. What I didn’t take into account was the amazing fact that — and I suggest before you venture abroad, you write this down — when you actually have to speak French, you will instantly and automatically forget every verb you ever knew. All you'll remember in their place are stupid phrases like, “Please shut the door.” and “Thank you for a lovely time.”
And instead of chatting up that chic printemps poulet at the next table, most of your conversations will be between you and a cabby or hotel manager.
But when I got to Paris and eventually found the hotel where I was registered, I must say, all my training, all my practice really did pay off. Here's how the conversation went …
Me: Good morning, sir. How are you?
Hotel manager: I am very well. And you speak French very well.
Me: Thank you. I am a tape.
H.M.: You … you are a tape?
Me: But, yes. I am a tape, and I am the software. And I am also the course of immersion.
H.M.: You are the … the course of immersion?
I could see right off that I was making quite an impression. Parisians are supposed to hate it when Americans try to speak French, but now I realized that was because most Americans don’t take the time to listen to the tapes, to study the software, to go through the immersion course.
I was so glad I did. Any chance you have to prove a stereotype wrong … well, on this positive and uplifting note, I returned to the conversation …
Me: Yes, indeed, Mr. Hotel, I am the course of immersion. And now I wishing to buy a room.
H.M.: I beg your pardon?
Me: A room with a view of the toilet.
Me: Very well, forgetting the toilet. I wishing a room with beds.
H.M.: Beds? All our rooms have beds! Are you out of your mind?
Me: Me. Buy. Room with beds. Capish? ROOM. BEDS. WITH. BUY!
I'm as tolerant as the next tourist, but I couldn’t help but feel the hotel manager wasn’t really trying his hardest. Maybe I shouldn’t have resorted to shouting, but truthfully, I couldn’t think of any other way to communicate with him. At this point he got a trifle surly …
H.M.: I do not know what you are saying, you braying jackass. Do you know what you are saying?
Me: Of cross I knowing what I to be say. I has already to be tell you, I am the course of immersion. Now please to be selling I a chamber pot with beds.
H.M.: Very well, Monsieur Genius, have it your way. Take room 203.
Me: Thank you, that is butter. I now gone to room 3002 and lie down. It has being a hard day. Please shut the door.
H.M.: Bu— but, the door is already shut!
Me: Thank you. Thank you for a lovely time.
Communication! It just takes practice and patience. When I came home, I couldn’t wait to tell my wife.
Me: Honey, I sounded just like Maurice Chevalier.
Wife: Oh, really?
Me: I tell you, I did a lot for international relations. I'm certain they have a whole different picture of Americans now.
Wife: That’s what I'm afraid of.
I'm sure she was joking. Well, pretty sure. I'm afraid she's a rather typical American — just doesn’t get the finer points of international relations.
For more of Jules Older’s travel adventures and misadventures, hitch yourself into his ebook, DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love. It’s available on all platforms, including the YourLifeIsATrip.com Trip Shop powered by Amazon.