Thursday, April 5, 2012

24 of 30: Parler Francais en France!

So. In preparation for my big trip to France, I brushed up on my French… took a few classes, and downloaded Pimsleur’s Conversational French on to my Ipod.
Basically, about 3 months before the trip, I was rocking out to Parlez-vous Anglais’ and Est-ce que vous voudrais boire quelque chose’s

I had taken up the language on and off for years. The first time was in high school as an elective subject. The next few times was in Alliance Francais in Manila… then at the Beverly Hills Language Institute. It sounds pretty impressive but it’s not. My vocabulary is bad, and my tenses are really off. I never took it long enough at one go for it to really stick…

HOWEVER… I was determined to at least be able to get by while I was in France. After all, the French are a lot nicer to you if you show an effort to speak their language.

Before we knew it, my travel partner, K and I were in a train from London to Paris, sooo excited about the adventures we were about to embark.

I had the opportunity to practice while in the Eurostar when I bought us Paris subway tickets.

“Bonjour! Je voudrais deux billets s’il vous plait!”

The vendor said something back in French, and waved his hands at me in an animated way. He was smiling at me, so I could only assume that he was complimenting my brilliant French speaking!
I smiled back and said, “Oui, oui!!”

He gave me two tickets and some pringles.

I guess he was upselling.

Still, I chose to see that as a successful conversation, and I was raring for more!

When K and I got off the train station and were walking to our Hostel, another opportunity presented itself. We needed to ask for directions! There was a dude that looked like a policeman walking a few feet in front of us. Perfect.

“Pardon, monsieur! Ou est la St Christopher’s Hostel s’il vous plait?”

“Hola!” he said.

… Hola?

“You go strait, and zen on ze second street, you turn left. Juz walk and zen you will see a breedge. Afterwards you will see St Christopherrs on your left.”

“Oh, oui. Merci monsieur! Merci beaucoup!”

“Wherr you from? Portugezz?”

Ahh… that explains the “hola”.

“No, monsieur. From the Philippines…”

He just smiled, nodded, and we bid him au revoir. He gave us excellent directions though, and just as he said, after the bridge, we found our hostel on the left!

(I would later on realize that everyone in France thinks I am Latina. This would not be my first "hola" incident. I would also like to point out that the number of times that people called me "hola" is the same number of times my friend, K, got called - "Konichiwa" and "Ni hao ma!" But that's another story all together :) )

“Hello!” the receptionist said.

“Bonjour! Ca va??” I said enthusiastically.

“Ca va! How can I help you?”

“Je m’appelle Eartha, et j’ai une reservation pour deux?”

“Okay. What is your last name please?”

“Ah… mon nom de famille est…”

“Excuse me Miss, would you like for me to speak to you in English or in French? Because I’m feeling a little stoopeed at the moment talking to you in English and you answering me in French…”

And then we burst out laughing!

I apologized profusely for my rude behavior, and explained to him that I was merely practicing, and got a little too excited.
Why wouldn’t I be? I was in ze cityy of lovvve! And I sort of spoke their language… “sort of” being the operative words.

All was forgiven, and he turned out to be such a nice guy! But I made sure to speak to him in English from then on… I saved my French for the other receptionists.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much I could remember. K and I got lost and needed directions a few times, and the people we’ve asked were more than happy to help. I realized I was really good at asking the right questions, but I was bad at understanding their answers… so I relied heavily on contextual clues and sign language! For example, I would ask – “Ou sont les toilettes?” and they would answer ‘blah blah reezhhoon ze bleu ho ho ho bladi blah!” --- and their hand would be pointing to the left. That’s all I’d need, really. Then I’d go – “Ah! Merci!” And voila!!! Ze toilets!!

If we needed help with directions, or getting to a certain place from the train station, there was always an information attendant willing and able to help. For example, I would say something like – “Je voudrais aller a Versailles…” the attendant would nod, type something into the computer, and then say something like – “Rue de Crimee blah blah blah Gare de l’Est, blah zhoovoirrre Montparnasse slkfjjvvoooshwa Versailles.” Which meant take the line from Rue de Crimee to Gare de L’Est, get off at Montparnasse and take the train to Versailles from there.
(If you are travelling from Paris to Versailles, don’t quote me on that. I was making it up… But you know what I mean.)

Ordering at restaurants was easier. Apart from saying “deux cafés sil vous plait,” we could just point to what we wanted in the menu, smile and say ‘merci’, and we were golden!

I have to say, that my favorite experience was when K and I were eating at this family owned restaurant called “Brenners” in Colmar.

Colmar is a tiny city in the Alsace region of France (far East), and hardly anybody spoke English. At least in Paris, if you ask – “Parlez-vous Anglais,” – they often reply with, “Juzz a leetol beet”
In Colmar, straight out they would say – “No!” almost with a petrified look.

I wasn’t too worried though. We were greeted with nothing but kindness the whole time we were in Paris, and my broken French got us by the whole time… I was sure it wasn’t going to be a problem in Colmar.

Anyway, at Brenner’s, the lady who was serving us was lovely… ABSOLUTELY lovely. We had both established at the beginning that my French and her English were ‘tres mal’ – but agreed that we would both try our best. She was everything-ing the restaurant… She was the server, the greeter, the busgirl, and I bet you she had a hand in all the cooking as well. We ended up having the best meal we’ve ever had (not to mention our first time trying escargots! Yummmm)! 

At the end of our meal, I complimented the lady, in my broken French, saying her restaurant was lovely and her food was so good.

She was very appreciative of the compliment, and said with a gesture we won’t ever forget – “C’est tout de mon coeur.” And both her hands sort of opened wide, gesturing the whole restaurant, and then clasped them firmly over her heart. “Voila,” she said afterwards, with the warmest smile ever.

K and I didn’t understand what she had said word for word… but we knew that ‘coeur’ was ‘heart’… and combining that with her gesture and her smile, we knew exactly what she meant.
I swear… tears.

It’s experiences like these that inspire me to learn more of the language. France is such a beautiful country, and despite the stereotype, we actually found the French to be really friendly and kind. Les Francais sont tres gentils! Not once did we encounter rudeness the whole time we were there. We enjoyed every bit of our stay, and I had such a great time immersing myself with the language.

I’m back in LA, but I swear… when I go back to France, I will be able to do more than ask where the toilets are or order 2 coffee’s. It’s such a beautiful language, and I intend to do it justice.

J’aime parler Francais, et J’adore la France!