It’s like those French have a different word for everything! – Steve Martin
Well, almost. In my travels, I have found myself in France five times. That is misleading. I didn’t find myself in France, I happened to go there five times.
I had heard all of the stories of the French being rude and arrogant, but I found it to be the very opposite. I met some amazing people there who became life long friends. I don’t remember their names (did you see what I did there?), but I’ll never forget the fun I had.
I stayed at the same hotel each time so I could get to know the staff. I did see the appearance of arrogance, but for good reason. I witnessed American after American get angry while checking in to the hotel because the clerk didn’t speak perfect English. Seriously, they would yell at the clerk.
The funny part to me was that the more the customer would yell, the less English the clerk “seemed” to understand. It was our arrogance that was the problem. We somehow think that the entire world should speak our language. Silly.
I behaved as though I was a visitor in their land, because I that is exactly what I was! I tried to learn as many French words as possible and be very polite. I found all but two people to be wonderful, and one of them had good reason to be.
Ok, the first guy was either a practical joker or a jerk. I’m not sure which. A friend of mine used to drive me into Paris, a two hour drive because the traffic was so bad. He would always insist. One Sunday, however, I decided to take the train, rather than bother him.
I bought my token from the lone clerk, then sat on a bench waiting for the train to arrive at the station. After waiting for a very long time, a woman happened by and asked me what I was doing. At first I thought it was going to be a Bill Engvall “Here’s your sign” moment, but turned out to be completely different.
I told her I was waiting for the train to Paris. She looked extremely irritated, took my token and told me to follow her. We walked up to the clerk’s window, where she gave the token back to the guy and told him off in French. He gave her my money back. She gave it to me and apologized for his behavior. It seems the train personnel were on strike, so the trains weren’t even running. Hardy har har.
The other guy who behaved poorly was a cabby at the airport. I was in England, ready to fly home, when I discovered that if I flew to Paris and spent one night, I could save about a thousand dollars on the total fare. So, off to Paris I went. I had made a reservation at a Novatel Hotel, so when the cabby, who had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get his fare, picked me up, he put my luggage in the trunk and off we went.
I gave him the paper with the address on it and he hit the gas so hard it knocked me back with such force, it reminded me of the scene from “Splash”, where the same thing happens to Tom Hanks. He sped around the circular Charles De Gaulle airport, stopped suddenly, and began swearing at me as he threw my bags on the sidewalk.
I was stunned, but then thought that if this guy was so angry for no apparent reason, it was most likely because he waited 45 minutes for a fare that was going to be extremely small. The hotel was probably within walking distance. It was. Poor guy. I actually felt bad for him. I must admit, however, to chuckling all the way to the hotel.
Ok, now the embarrassing part. At one point, I needed a pair of scissors to cut the tags off of some clothes I had purchased. I went to the desk and began making hand gestures to look like I was cutting something. Finally, one of the clerks said, “Oh, scissors!” Turns out that the word is the same in both languages.
The same thing happened the next day when I was trying to explain that I needed medicine for my horrible headache. After my ten minute pantomime, he finally said, “Oh, you need aspirin!” Although pronounced with the emphasis on asPIRin, it was the same word in each language. Embarrassing.
See you tomorrow.
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