©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in France…well…um…just don’t speak English.
The city of Lyon, nestled between Paris and Marseille, is a tourist’s delight. I had often heard that the French are instinctively partial to those who speak their native tongue. ‘Whatever you do, make sure not to speak in English’ I had been warned by all and sundry, just before we flew into France two years ago. Armed with an ‘English to French’ phrase book, hubby and I practiced french verbs and numbers repeatedly. Before we landed on french soil, we were determined to be moderately fluent in this musical language.
‘What’s 1 in French?’ I quizzed. And ‘Un‘ said hubby, triumphantly.
And so on. In spite of our lofty plans, though, we couldn’t quite go beyond ‘quatre’ (four) and ‘cinq’ (five). We looked at each other in despair and then shrugged resignedly. Oh well, we were just going to have to survive our entire french sojourn with the help of a smattering of french verbs and the numbers from one to five.
We arrived in beautiful Lyon emotionally exhausted. French grammar had taken its toll.
‘We’re starving’ the kids clamoured.
‘Time for McDonalds’ everyone chorussed simultaneously. It was crazy to come all the way to the gastronomy capital of France only to end up at McDonalds. But hungry kids and grammar-battered parents cannot come up with a better option. Relieved to see the familiar logo, we trooped into a Mcdonalds larger than any we had seen in Sydney.
Hubby decided it was the perfect opportunity to practice some french.
We walked up to the counter, and a young French girl smiled at us.
Hubby cleared his throat. There was a long pause while he tried to recall the correct sequence of the numbers we had practiced not long before. Finally…..” Errr…..errr….Quatre burgers…” he said, slowly. The girl waited patiently. There was another pause. ‘What’s three?’ he whispered to me, anxiously. I rolled my eyes. A queue began forming behind us. ‘Deux‘ I said, confused, and then added hastily: “no, no….it’s trois“. Hubby smiled. “Err…..Trois chocolate milkshakes”. Seeing the annoyed looks on the faces of the people behind us, there was a moment of flustered bewilderment and he accidentally placed the remaining order in a jumble of Hindi and French numbers. ” Err…..chaar (four in Hindi) french fries aur (‘and’ in Hindi) Deux coffees”.
The young french girl stared at us in despair. She hadn’t understood most of what hubby had spoken. Obviously, the French numbers had been uttered in an Indian accent, sounding very unlike anything she had ever heard. Finally, she said slowly…very slowly…”Parlez-vous anglais?” (“Do you speak English?”)
We nodded….froze…then nodded again. Was this a trick question???
She let out a loud whoop of delight. “Yippeee” she said, and the word sounded strange in her french accent. “Let’s speak in English” she said.I am certain there was an audible sigh of relief amongst the crowd of french men and women standing impatiently behind us waiting to order their own burgers and fries. Needless to say, the order was once again recited, this time thankfully in English. Within moments, we were shuffling over to a table, laden with the usual Mcdonalds goodies.
Hubby looked at me sheepishly and I knew what he was thinking. We had somehow managed the impossible. History has proved the french are not comfortable speaking English. And yet, a young French woman, driven to temporary insanity because of our vain attempts at her language, had finally begged us to converse in English.
It has been two years since that trip. We now own a bigger and better English-to-French dictionary. It is currently collecting dust….And yet, who knows when it might come in handy? Next time we are in France, requesting French Fries, hopefully we will get the numbers right !