I was talking with a friend the other day about France. She and her family are planning a trip and she mentioned having only high school French to get by on. I told her that I hadn’t even had that when I was there, and I managed just fine. And then I told her this story…which is so much better live and in person because I totally act it out!
In 2007, while living in Turkey, I visited a friend who lived in France. One night, we were planning to have a French meal so I offered to go buy the baguette we would be eating. I asked for specific directions to the bakery knowing how easily I get lost if I’m not paying attention. My direction sensors were already working because when she told me it was a 10 minute walk close to where we walked two days before, I knew exactly how to get there. After a little scribble of a map was made, I set out. I didn’t take the map with me though, knowing I knew where to go.
I know, I know…most of you are thinking I got extremely lost…I’ve set it up that way. The reality is that I found the shop with no problems whatsoever. What happened next is what flustered me!
I walked into the shop, confident in my bonjour, and saw the baguettes in a basket behind the counter. In every store I’d seen them in up to that point, they’d been in baskets close to the door so that customers could just help themselves. I realized that I had no idea how to say one baguette in French. The nice lady at the store said something to me, but I had no idea what. I held up one finger, my pointer finger, then quickly switched to my thumb. I had a dim memory from my last trip to France, 2 years and 9 months earlier, of my friend telling me that in France, the thumb was one. I said “baguette” and gave the lady the thumbs up sigh. Which I now know isn’t exactly accurate. It’s more of a thumb to the side gesture! I’m sure she was thinking that I was a crazy foreigner, but she handed me a baguette. She told me how much it cost, and even though I didn’t understand her, I knew that it would be less than a Euro according to my friend. I took a Euro out of my pocket, put it on the counter, and watched the lady try to figure out what to do with it. She stared at the coin with a confused look on her face. I looked down at the coin and realized that I had given her a Turkish lira. I didn’t even realize I had any lira in my pockets! I pulled out another coin and again, Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, stared proudly ahead. Uh oh. Did I even have any Euro on me? Thankfully, I found a 2 Euro coin and paid with that. By that point, the five French words I did know had escaped me. I couldn’t remember how to say thank you or goodbye in French if my life depended on it! The nice lady said something else to me so I just smiled, turned Asian on her, and backed out of the door bowing several times. I walked back to my friend’s house giggling the whole way. I’m sure that several people I passed and the lady waiting at the crosswalk with me wondered what was funny and if I was in my right mind!
Fun times. Good memories!