Friday, June 02, 2006

Vacation Memories

Now that we are back and I have had time to reflect on our France vacation I wanted to share some tidbits. When traveling to France be sure someone in your party has a working knowledge of French. It seems to me that if you do not speak French they will purposely make it hard on you. (Sorry Kim & Thomas, that is my objective observation) Case in point: We were at the Musee Rodin and we stopped for a drink at the museum's outdoor cafe on our way into the museum. We had just waited in a long line in the heat behind some American high school class so it was time for a cold beer. The person in line in front of me ordered a beer. I was thinking to myself, score! All I have to do when she looks at me is point at his beer. She is staring at me now so it is obviously my turn to order. I say the obligatory "Bonjour," smile and point to his beer. She says something in French that I do not understand (which is most everything in French) and I simply point to the beer again and say in English, "I want a beer." She says something again in French and I just stare at her. I am thinking to myself, "Why is she making this difficult for me? Why doesn't she just go over there and pour me a damn beer before I hop over the counter and pour it myself." Finally, she realized that I am not going away and I am not going to speak French. She turns around and pours me a beer. Why did she have to be that way? I know, I know--when in Rome do as the Romans do as the saying goes...but it is obvious that I do not know French and never had a French lesson in my life. Luckily, M speaks French very well so most of the trip the language barrier did not rear its ugly head.

One other example. We are at this restaurant in Nice, La Mama, which by the way serves the best Moules & Frites (mussels and fries) in the world. They were so fresh and delicious. You could still taste the seawater. I now know what mussels are really suppose to taste like. I have been spoiled and I am afraid I will never like mussels again unless they are from La Mama. If you are ever in Nice and want to know where to eat, I highly recommend La Mama at 1, Rue de la Tour in Old Town around the corner from Place Garibaldi. Any way, back to the point. The waitress acted as if she did not speak English. M ordered for us in his beautiful, flawless French: deux Moules Frites and a liter of red wine. Later in the evening my paper napkin had somehow ended up in the flame of the candle on the table and caught on fire. I was in such shock I just picked it up which helped the napkin to burn better. I then threw it on the table again. This time the waitress came by and said in pefect English to throw it on the floor. Later on she would come by and say something like, "You are hot tonight!" Interesting how she now speaks English.

Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. I am just telling you like it was. You can take it as you would like. It is their country after all and if they speak French, then fine. I am just glad that in Germany everyone speaks English and they will go out of their way to do so. I feel much more welcome in Germany. (Luckily because I now live here.)

More reflective posts coming up as I digest them....


Blogger Expat Traveler said...

The French will never admit they speak English even if they do speak it! Well for the most part.. They are at least hesitant and will usually not listen to your horrible french... But this is mostly to tourists and in touristy areas because there are very nice people out there too..

If you ask Vous Parlez Francais? They will also say I speak a little...

so there ya go, it's just a french thing.. But then if you look at it differently, why don't English speaking people try to speak another language!!!

5:31 PM  
Blogger James said...

Expat--I agree wholeheartedly. More Americans should learn a second language. I speak and understand a little bit of Spanish and now German...most Americans do not speak a second language and I think that is tragic.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

This is actually a really interesting point. I have only been to France, the Netherlands and Poland, but only in France did I experience this problem. In the other countries it is no problem to point to something and show fingers.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Queerbeet said...

This is a typical french behavier.

10:36 AM  
Blogger CocteauBoy said...

The most spoken language in the world is Mandarin, but that's based on the fact of its massively-concentrated population, and unless you intend to travel to, or live within, that population, English is the most practical language to have or to learn. English is not only the second-most spoken language in the world, but the most common language.

It's helpful to consider that Americans' lack of second-language skills is based on the fact that we already speak the most practical language on the planet. For most other countries, learning English is just a practical move, not a decision based on some kind of superiority of intelligence.

It seems the most practical second-language to have for Americans would be Spanish, and maybe French as a third.

For the record, here are the top-spoken languages on the planet, from most to least:

Mandarin; English; Hindi; Spanish; Arabic; Russian; Portuguese; Bengali; Malay/Indonesian; ALL of those are more spoken than French, which comes in Tenth, and German, which is 12th...



8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is a shame that most americans don't speak more than one languange but given the size and location of the USA there is no need to speak anything else. here i can drive three hours and have passed thru two countries, but in the USA you can drive sometimes 12 hours and still be in the same state. *shrug* it's just the way the country exists that contributes to the lack of language skills, not the people....

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a native speaker of a language which is spoken nowhere else but in my home country, I find it very annoying, when English-speaking people always assume that it is everybody else's job to learn *their* language. When I'm abroad, I *always* have to speak a foreign language. We must learn several foreign languages at school, so luckily I have the ability to do it. :)

3:27 PM  
Blogger christina said...

I do actually speak a bit of French and my husband and I had the same experience as you did in France, or at least in Paris, James. I don't think that all English-speaking foreigners should automatically speak the language of the country they are visiting, and I don't think the natives should automatically speak English, but there's no need to be rude about it, and that's what often happens in Paris, unfortunately.

4:16 PM  
Blogger christina said...

I meant French people being rude, not you, James! :-)

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I actually find that many people in Germany do not speak English! Funny that you are in the same town and found the opposite. Especially when I had to handle all of our registering and visas, etc. I don't think it is any different here than France--I actually found more people speaking English there. All depends on one's personal experiences!

Note on the Moules & Frites: Have you been to Belgium? I am sure the dish you had in Nice was good, but I think Belgium has the best frites at least, if not the best moules as well. Give it a try!

11:25 AM  

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