A note about the French language to the People of France: I believe I am physically incapable of sounding French. I would have a better time speaking in an African clicking language than pronouncing “Rochechouart” or “Batignolles” to a degree worthy enough to be considered language. Nik the Greek had a wonderful time trying to get me to say “lieu” correctly, to no avail. [I can, however, do an impressive Edinburgh accent.] So my question is: does recognizing my deficiency earn me any bonus points—can I just say I’m sorry, I KNOW I suck, or would they rather I just visit Germany instead? With that said…here’s what happened.
A year ago I was having a nightcap in Ireland with my friend and her sort-of boyfriend, talking about France, and the two of them were telling me what a wonderful country it was.
I was harboring negative feelings based on the French stereotype that the French are snobby and rude and would hate me because I’m an American. I said I had no interest in visiting the country if the people didn’t want me there.
“Why do you believe this? Have you been before?”
“Well, no…I’ve just…heard stories. And I can sense they’re true.” I’m like Old Yeller.
“Well, you ought to see for yourself. The French people wouldn’t hate you because you’re an American, and they’re some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. As long as you don’t come in with the ‘Everyone cater to me: I’m an American’ attitude, they’re more than willing to help you.”
I knew the Americans they were talking about, the whiney, loud, entitled type, and I don’t blame the French (or anyone) for hating them. There are few things worse than being overseas and being embarrassed by your own countrymen who are parading around like King of the Worlds.
After listening to my friends go on about the wonder that is France, and teaching me to say “Désolé” (“I’m sorry,” assuming that’s the phrase I’d need the most), I was excited to visit the country someday.
So Lauren and I arrived in France yesterday. We drove in from Germany, paying upwards of €30 in tolls, in a five-turned-six-hour adventure.
Our first stop in France was a gas station* followed by a search for food. The restaurant we’d entered into GPS turned out to be closed, as was every other restaurant we saw in this cute little country town, so we had to improvise.
*Here, we deserve judgment. First, we went through the bus entrance instead of the car entrance and had to turn around (and exit through a one-way); then we left our parking spot, took a wrong turn, and had to enter the gas pump area, again, going the wrong direction through a one-way; and all the while we were being watched by two young guys who clearly thought we were drunk or foreign.
Finally we found one take-out pizza place with their door still open, and wonderful pizza smells wafted out. The sign on the door verified they were open for another hour, so we went inside and were examining the menu—margherita pizza or pizza formaggio?—when the woman at the counter asked us what language we spoke.
Lauren said, “Anglais” (not even “ENGLISH”) and the woman and her coworkers started speaking in French to each other. We could tell they didn’t want to deal with us from the shakes of their heads, even though we’d done nothing loud or obnoxious or rude. Then she told us they could not help us, and with a smirk on her face she added, “Désolé.”
Welcome to France! (Thanks for nothing!**)
**This is Lauren’s direct quote.
It was especially irritating because the menu was in Italian. We drove around for quite a while before finding a Chinese food restaurant that sold take-out. The food was cold and the woman filling the containers looked like she wanted to spit in it, but the man behind the counter was nice. He spoke some English and helped us with our order and even smiled. Unfortunately, when he packed our bag, he didn’t include napkins or cutlery, and their only take-away utensils he had were chopsticks. Lauren had to eat while driving, so I thankfully I had random plastic cutlery in my backpack and she was able to eat with a spork.
As Lauren analogized in the car ride afterwards, we were like Mary and Joseph being rejected from the Inn. “We have no room for you.” “We will not serve you.” “We don’t care if you starve or give birth.” The only exception was a Chinese guy with barn in his backyard. “We can’t house you, but here are some chopsticks.”
I was upset because I wanted to believe the stereotypes of French people were falsely exaggerated, and I was proven wrong on my first interaction in France. I had hope, however, that Paris would be different.
And I was right.