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FAQ: How do I manage with my two years of high school French?
The answers: Over the years, we’ve been asked time and again for advice on reserving, understanding menus and ordering if friends, relatives, posters, etc., think their French is limited, and I’ll tell you, no one’s French is more deficient than mine. Just ask my French friends.
In spite of my horrible French, deplorable accent (I consider it a compliment to be asked if I’m Belgian or Swiss) and dumb façade, I have testicles of – would it be zinc or tin? – and I just keep soldiering on. A revered professor of Psychiatry of mine said near the end of my training – “just keep listening, eventually the patient will tell you what’s going on.” Thank you, Dr. Kolb.
Despite my Eurotrash clothes, my crummy Greek medical giveaway briefcase and Navigo; my height and demeanor give me away every time. Want to know my rule? Play dumb and just hang in there.
Today I went to a place in the deepest 12th (annoyed reader, please don’t write saying it’s really near four metro stops and very accessible) and thought I was relatively incognito (ha). Until four Bulgarians showed up, no English was heard. The restaurant was filled with Bobos and Branchéistes. I was minding my own business and ready to order.
Except the table wobbled. So I made my dumb-sign and the terrifically nice chief lady (I’d call her a girl but that would get me in a heap of hurt with the feminist side of my family) came over to fix it. She said in French, “Shall I fix it?”. I said in French, “Sure.” She said in English, “May I fix it?” Oy.
Previously, on my morning run/jog/walk/limpies I came a different way than usual (I was taking pix of some North African places for a friend) and came by an Indian resto that said “English Speak here.” OK.
“Have you finally gone off the edge here, John,”
“Dad, get to the point.”
The point is that people worry that waitfolk in France won’t understand them; when making reservations, when looking at the menu, when ordering. But, that’s not true.
Since every French person has 12 years of English at a minimum, they can and do understand you. 55% are petrified that the nun will wrap their knuckles if they pronounce “that” like “zat.” 35% want to help you, they believe service is a service industry, they just need encouragement, and the other 10% desperately want to speak English so they can, what, “Work at Air France?” I dunno.
Footnote : Don’t look for places with menus (cartes) in English, for all sorts of reasons, (mis- or robo-translations, sitting next to people who are, godforbid, American, not to mention dumbed-down food). Look, you know the words, that is, presuming you cook or read cook books – sauteed, melange, tartare, terrine, mi-cuit and so forth.
It’s not Bulgarian.
Someone once asked me why, if I lived in France I didn’t speak French, and I was stunned – because……..
The resto discussed here was :
Les Temps Modernes
91, rue de Charenton in the 12th (Metro: Gare de Lyon)
Weekday menu = 13.50, à la carte 30-40 €.
©by John Talbott 2010
Take trips, not chances. For peace of mind each and every time you travel, enroll for MedjetAssist evacuation services.
Paris Bercy 12eme arrondissement: Flickr Creative Commons/bibi95
(restaurant) Le Marais / Chez Marianne: Flickr Creative Commons/Borya