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« We Love Paris in the Winter | Main | Paris Photo Blog »

Language Barrier

We are truly awful at a few things.  Two things we both really suck at are directions, and foreign languages. But we try. On both counts. We march out of our flat every morning after pouring over paper maps and Google maps. We write down names of streets and plot each turn. Lately we take a picture of our computer screen with the Google map up - cause Bob's BRILLIANT!! We still get lost constantly.

Linguistically we give it our all, but we're starting at the very beginning with every language. It should be embarrassing -- sometimes it is, other times we just laugh at how bad we are. People laugh with us, or at us. This morning we met the scowl of the man in a boulangerie with a chirpy "bonjour," and followed it up by butchering the language as we ordered in French. He spoke no more English than we did French, but he lightened up as we tried hard to communicate. By the end of the transaction he was giving us all free pastries and complementing Ella on her "pistache macaroon."

The other day Bob stopped a guy on the corner to ask "Excusez-moi, au d'Orsay?" to which he replied in a mid-western drawl "I don't speak any French."

"Obviously neither do I!" Bob said.

Here's our favorite story so far: Today, at the Louvre, we had finished our snack, and Brenna was telling the waitress what we'd eaten, in order to get our tally: "Un thé, un crepe, du lait, un cafe, un beignet..."

The waitress cringed, said "Please don't speak French." and walked away.

Brenna got her revenge. The waitress came back with a calculator to add up the bill, and when she announced, in a think French accent "So you pay nineteen twenty," Brenna just stared at her. "Nineteen twenty," the waitress said again, a little louder. Brenna said, baffled, "I have no idea what you're saying." She stayed baffled until the waitress showed her the total on the calculator, "Ahh, nineteen twenty!" and then Brenna paid nineteen twenty, exactly.

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Reader Comments (13)

Lama says "Good Job Ella!"

Feb 10, 2010 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterYo Lama

Keep trying, its more for your benefit than theirs if they are going to be rude. Because if you don't keep trying you won't have those fun experiences where someone realizes you're trying and opens up, like your bakery experience.

Feb 10, 2010 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterLise

Way to go Brenna! Lately, every time I meet a French person I just shout out Je Tem! Je Tem! (or however you spell it). My French accent is quite good because we had a French foreign exchange student living with us in High School, so I just speak English in a French accent and hum a few bars of the theme song from A Man and a Woman. Try this. They love it. Da Da Da Daba Daba Da Daba Daba Da...etc.

Feb 10, 2010 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered Commentercarolyn studer

you guys rock. why the hell did I never think to take a picture of the google directions? truly inspired.

Feb 10, 2010 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterTamara

I had a magical experience in Provence last summer and everyone was so kind even though we didn't speak French (but did attempt). We were told just say "Viva la France!" if all else fails but truly we didn't even need to resort to it...I think things are much different in the big city but sounds like you're still doing okay...DO get to the smaller villages though...absolute heaven!

Feb 10, 2010 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterKim P.

That waitress story is harsh! I thought Americans were supposed to try and speak French for fear of just this reaction! What gives? Please tell me these are the exceptions to your trip.

Feb 10, 2010 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Love it, Brenna! Missed you again at book club. Love all your posts. You make me feel like I am there sharing your experiences.

Feb 10, 2010 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterKaren B.

I recently found your blog and have enjoyed following your trip.

Lucky for me not all Parisians are so snarky. I got sick in Paris and with very rusty French managed to tell the pharmacist I was "sick in the head." I knew she understood me when she kindly acted out the symptoms of my sinus infection, coughing and sniffing, and included a nasal spray in my package.

I highly recommend Les Invalides, if you have a chance.

Feb 10, 2010 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterVirginia

@Keith The waitress was definitely an exception. We just thought she was so extreme that she was funny to write about. We have loved Paris - the energy of the city, the sights, the food, the history AND the people. We leave today and we're already plotting a way to return at some point.


Feb 10, 2010 at 10:24 PM | Registered CommenterBob & Brenna Redpath

Ah, thou art a braver man than I.

My family once encountered (many times) a waitress (in english) at a coffee house who became known in our own little corner of the world as "Stoneface." My stepfather had a mission to someday make her laugh. After months he finally managed to crack her impenetrable exterior, but the best he could get was the flash of a smile before the stone curtain descended again.

Hope springs eternal. If the waitress thinks your pronunciation is bad, just try spelling it!! well-nigh imposible!

Feb 10, 2010 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I KNEW you should have taken me along - I'm a wiz with my nose shoved in a map (think New York, Brenna). I may not see all the great sites (my face shoved inside a map, and all), but I will always know whether we're headed north or south and get you where you want to go!

Feb 11, 2010 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeanie

Most French people are very nice if one tries just a little to speak the language. I am so much worse than you, Brenna, at languages (as you well know) that it is a big joke. I would try to speak French and watch people just cringe, but if you do it with a smile and seem to throw yourself on their mercy then it usually works. I felt that I always gave them a big laugh for the day....they could tell their friends about this truly dense southern American who was soooo pathetic at speaking French.
The only time I ever encountered a snippy Parisian was in a large department store in Paris. I was trying very hard to tell the sales person what I wanted and all she did was snip and make fun. I walked out....did not need whatever it was anyway.

Snippy sales people happen all the time in Atlanta to those of us that speak English. I shudder to think about how people from other countries might get treated in this town because they do not speak English well.
Too bad foreign languages are not an emphasis in this country, someday it is going to come back to bite us BIG TIME.

Feb 12, 2010 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterMOM

Why don't you just buy a GPS ? Or install a free one on your mobile?


Feb 15, 2010 at 2:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterCS

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