I don’t like to squeeze too much into a trip. Running from place to place trying to see it all and spending a lot of time on the transitions between spaces doesn’t do much for me. But when I heard of the possibility of staying in Paris for the weekend I jumped at it. I knew it wouldn’t be enough time to get to know the city but it could afford me the chance to try to fumble through some French and, of course, to eat le pain, la fromage, le chocolat, and drink le vin.
My classmates and I discussed the advantages of making an effort with French. Most people in Paris know how to speak English but it’s probably rather rude to assume this. My goal was to make it through two days by at least starting every conversation in French and seeing how long I could stretch it out before resorting to English. The fun started when our group that was staying for the weekend ascended out of the Metro station into the Bastille square and needed to find the hotel. It’s not easy to see all the street signs and the area is huge! There were quite a few people milling around so I decided to give my French a try, “Excuse moi, ou est La Rue de la Chemin Vert?” Nobody knew, they were just all heading out to get to the next restaurant or bar. The exciting part was that they told me they didn’t know in French and I actually understood them! That was a first. We eventually interpreted our map and the streets and found the hotel on our own. I tried speaking in French to the gentleman behind the counter. He could understand some of what I was trying to say (and it was rather obvious that we were checking in) and he told me that my French was good. I know that he was lying and that he was just being nice because he has to be.
The next day I was on my own. My proposed endeavor to just explore the streets of the Latin Quarter, linger in cafes, and perhaps take a tour of the sewers of Paris didn’t appeal to anyone else. It was a bit lonely but also freeing to set my own pace (too slow for most people) and it also meant that no one I knew would be around to witness my language interactions. It was a wonderful day. Most people that I spoke to would quickly switch from French to English. It took an effort to respond in French, knowing how ridiculous I sounded, but I remembered my goal and kept going. I apparently have a difficult time recognizing the number “douze” and would hear “deux” instead. “That tshirt is just two euros? What a bargain!” I decided to skip the sewers since it was such a beautiful day and wandered, eating and drinking along the way, until I made it to Musee de Cluny which is the largest purely medieval museum in Europe. Luckily, it’s not that big and it’s not that popular so I could wander around seeing most of it without much trouble. It was already getting late in the day, so I asked the man behind the ticket stand what time it was. With a smirk on his face the whole time, he answered me in a combination of French and English, obviously amused that I was continuing this French charade.
Roaming the streets of Paris, you can hear all sorts of different languages and they affect me in different ways. I love to hear people speak, especially children who sound so sophisticated speaking in French or with their British accent. I realized while I was wandering and trying to communicate with shopkeepers that I haven’t made much opportunity to talk to people outside of our FSU group while we’ve been in London. I think I’m embarrassed about my own flat boring voice but it would be a shame to let that stop me. Of course, this means that I’ll need to go into many more shops, cafes, and pubs but what must be done must be done.
So I think my language experiment went well. I found a surprising amount of people were willing to go along with me and didn’t give me the “No. Just speak English” response I have gotten in the past and expected.