Monday, July 4, 2011

Paris - with a twist, (of course)

We spent last Tuesday to Friday in Paris, which was fab. It's about 13 years since I'd been there and I noticed a few changes:-
- a lot more of them speak English. I used to be quite proficient in French, but was getting pretty nervous at the thought of being responded to in French. I can read and speak the language decently even now, but as soon as a French person replies, I just freeze and am unable to understand all but the basics. In the taxi queue outside the Eurostar station, I managed to tell the person in charge that we were five people, with five large pieces of luggage, and would need a "grand taxi". The family was impressed. You could have knocked me down with a feather when we got into the taxi and the driver started cracking jokes in heavily accented English. Similarly, more waiters and shop assistants seemed able to communicate in English this time around. Amazing...

- a lot more of them admit to speaking English. Time was when they'd watch you butcher their language and generally make a complete fool of yourself, before pulling out near-perfect English, just to add to the shame.  I did A level French and found that as my French improved, the French people were less tolerant of my grammatical errors. Even the French guys that were clearly trying to get laid would get quite picky about tense usage and subjunctives! This time around, I found myself having half-English, half-French conversations with both parties filling in the gaps, and none of the tensions of old.

My language skills really came into their own at Charles de Galle airport on Friday night however. While having a quick meal, we noticed the military personnel wandering around, having a quiet word with people here and there, all of whom seemed to take umbrage at what they said before removing themselves immediately.  Before we knew it, a soldier came up to us and started speaking rather rapidly in French. The Ball & Chain sent him over to me, and the soldier quietly told us that we needed to move to a different part of the airport at once. After assuring myself that he was indeed telling us to get up and leave our unpaid-for meals, I asked him why. With little fuss or drama, he quietly said the word "bomb" (in French) at which I said "Oh - really?" and then, in an attenpt to not panic the kids, turned to the Ball & Chain and said, in my best Peter Sellers accent " He says it's a Burm". (Hey - I lived and worked in London in the 1980's - these things don't scare me.)

Yes, folks, yet again an incident.  I can only assume it was an unattended plastic bag since we were allowed to return to the departures lounge almost as soon a we'd reached the holding area.

One of these days I'll have an uneventful journey - and then what will I blog about?


  1. Vacation in Paris - hurrah! I envy you all the English (although not the 'burm' incident.) Around here, very little is actually spoken, although you see it everywhere in print - usually just wrong enough to make a native speaker look twice - very entertaining, though. One of the little park areas outside our high-rise apartment building has this notice in English: "This area is for all the people. Please, use it cleanly!"

  2. You're just like me! I can manage to speak the lingo and read it (to a more basic level than you, mind) but I'm buggered if they reply haha!

  3. See, this is why I don't blog. We travel, it all goes ok, we arrive with no incidents. Same on the way back. I'd have nothing to say if I blogged! I don't know how you do it...

    I'm the opposite to you on the language front though. Last time I went to France (which was admittedly about 14 years ago), I managed to understand a fair bit but had to get my husband (who'd done a week's intensive business French, as opposed to my O level some 10 years before that) to speak for me. If I try to think up a French word, the Welsh one comes to mind instead. And I can't even remember very much of my Welsh.

  4. You aren't having much luck with airports, are you? ;-)

    Agreed that the French are much more willing to speak English than they used to be. I usually try to speak (rusty) French to them, and then am embarrassed when they reply in perfect English.

  5. And that's exactly why we take le train.

    Just trying to figure out how long it would take you to get from a to b...

  6. And did you ask for a rurm when you got the hotel? x

  7. A burm - yes, very Peter Sellers.

    Interesting re French people being happy to try and communicate in English. Wonder if it's really the American influence rather than the British.

  8. So funny, my kids can do that whole exchange about "umburgas" from the latest Pink Panther. When just in Paris our french friend was saying the people at work (the Min of Defence) are way overconfident about their English rating it as "excellent" when she thinks it's rubbish. Wish I had that confidence!


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