My mother is French. She fell in love with my father (an American) when he stumbled into the youth hostel where she worked in Paris after he became lost. Their whirlwind romance resulted in my mother leaving her home country and moving thousands of miles away to the Monterey Peninsula in California. They have been married for 44 years now and have four beautiful, intelligent children (with their youngest daughter being the most stunning of them all, if I do say so myself…KIDDING).
But those beautiful and intelligent children I mentioned? Not one of them speaks French very well. We spoke it well when we were younger (from what I understand), but stopped speaking it in the home as we grew older (for a variety of reasons) and were lazy in our high school French classes (even though our mom is a high school French teacher herself). So yeah, our French is très mauvais, if you will. I am pretty sure our lack of skill at her native tongue is one of my mom’s biggest regrets.
While my French isn’t great, it is decent enough to manage two trips to Paris sans ma mère (a.k.a without my mother – the translator) in college. It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to muddle through interactions with waiters, street vendors, and ticket booth workers by knowing a few key phrases and reading body language….
Où est la toilette? = Where is the toilet?
Je voudrais des crepes = I would like some crepes (or substitute other menu item, though I mainly stuck to crepes).
Combien ça coûte? = How much is it (while overly gesticulating at whatever I wanted to buy)?
My cousins Thomas and Nikos (and my dear traveling buddies – Ashley in 2004 and Joanna in 2006) were sweet and supportive as I practiced my caveman French all over Paris – butchering the language of my heritage…
“Me buy this – yes?” “Tickets to La Loo-vray, see vooz plate – yes?” “Me want go to here. You help me find – yes?”
While it didn’t really occur to me at the time, looking back at those trips to Paris I am amazed that I was able to navigate through an unfamiliar city, conversing with people who didn’t speak the same language as me, without experiencing any major issues. My very limited French was enough to garner the sympathy of street vendors or museum employees who would switch to English to make me more comfortable (or to cease the Dexter-style butchering of their language – I really can’t be sure). It also didn’t hurt that my cousin and travel buddies helped to translate for me when my caveman conversational skills didn’t produce the results I was looking for.
Now, you may be asking yourself “why in the world is she telling us this totally random story?” Well, there is a point, I swear. You’ll just have to come back Friday for the second part to see what that point is…