Friday, October 26, 2007

Just remember: people speak English!

A friend is talking about going to Paris. And how she's worried because she doesn't speak French. And of course Parisians have this terrible reputation.

I said that I love Paris, and I've only had amazing experiences there, and that, with the expected exception of a couple bitchy saleswomen in swanky stores, people are always lovely to me. I do speak French, but at this point it's pretty sketchy. I smile a lot, though, which probably helps.

And then I reminded her that people speak English.

Which in turn reminded me of an embarrassing little story.

Because sometimes? Even though I don't go to Europe looking like I'm dressed to mow their lawns? Even though I wouldn't be caught dead wearing white sneakers, a fanny pack, and a visor?

Sometimes I'm the loud American you don't want to be associated with in public. Although actually, now that I think about it, that could be said for me in the US as well. Maybe it has nothing to do with travel.

A few years ago I was in Paris with my friend Kris, an American friend of mine who lives there. We were out shopping. I think it's worth mentioning that at the point this conversation took place, we were shopping for an outfit for her daughter. In other words, we were in children's clothing.

We'd been talking about a variety of things, as you do, but we'd somehow gotten onto the topic of health care and medicaments. And how in France it's not terribly unusual to have medications offered in suppository form, which is something you don't really encounter much of in the US.

And then something caught her eye and she darted over to it. So we were a good, oh, two rows of clothing apart when I proclaimed, and not quietly, "Honestly, the whole idea of sticking anything in my anus really makes me twitchy."

This man a couple feet away from me whipped around, eyes wide. My friend held up a dress on a hanger in front of her face.

She hissed, "People speak English!"

Yikes. They sure do.


  1. I think he was just surprised to hear the word "anus" said by anyone.

  2. Huh. It's not a word you use?

  3. Sorry to tell your friend but Parisians especially do NOT like foreigners, especially if they don't speak French. I'd recommend to your friend to try to at least learn basic phrases such as "Parlez-vous anglais?" Otherwise she can expect a LOT of rudenss.

  4. I think arse is the word of choice. :-)

    I was, at one point, in Paris with my sister, and my two cousins (sort-of) from Manchester. We did somewhat of a social experiment. A pair of us would be talking to each other, and then go up to a Parisian and ask them a touristy question. Now there are lots of combinations here:
    -My sister and I speaking English with and American accent.
    -My cousins (both male) speaking with a proper British accent.
    -Two of us speaking to each other in Marathi.

    In all cases we eventually settled on English as the common language. (even though my cousins both speak French)

    We basically determined that if we were speaking Marathi when we approached people, we got the most polite and helpful response. Next was the British accent. The American accent got us the worst treatment.

    Kind of funny.

  5. Jo - That's just been so far from my experience, but I do speak French. I will suggest she learn some basics, though.

    VVK - *Of course* you did a social experiment! I love it! And results are interesting (and not terribly surprising), particularly if it was since the 2000 election.

  6. Nope.

    When referring to the rear end, acceptable synonyms are "ass", "butt", and sometimes "cornhole."

    Saying "anus" is like saying "navel" or "vagina." There are plenty of other less scientifically correct words that are either easier or more fun to say.

  7. "Honestly, the whole idea of sticking anything in my anus really makes me twitchy."

    Hmmm...I think we've solved the mystery of why you are still single ;)

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  9. Nope... it was during the summer of 1996. No W effect in play.

    And what do you mean "*of course*"! :-P

  10. In personal experiences they were always lovely as well, but I also speak french. I've just heard so many horror stories and I desperately try to defend the French to no avail.

  11. I-66 - This is probably the product of growing up with a father who worked in public health. We always used those words.

    HIN - Oh, wow! How could I have overlooked that as the reason for so long?

    VVK - I KNOW you! Remember?

    Jo - Yah, I think you're right about warning her, because it's true, lots of people have bad experiences.

  12. Oh, how I miss France! I think the knock on the French is overplayed somewhat here.

    I met many French people who were lovely to my American self.

    There was one tobacconist, though, who would look at me and shake his head "non" if I asked for my ciggies in an American accent.

    Nope, my Marlboros had to be requested using the proper French accent or I was going to walk away empty handed.

    Since I was forgetful, I fixed the situation and switched to Galoise.


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