Shaam De Eli


Reading Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe brought back memories of our time in France. Back in 2003 we took a trip to Europe. The DH’s brother and family live in Switzerland so we spent bulk of our time there. However, we took 2 days to go visit France – Paris, actually. We went by train which was a novel experience. It took us 6 hours to get from Basel in Switzerland. We got off at the gare du nord station in Paris and proceeded to spend the next 48 hours discovering the City of Lights by foot. They were a wonderful, wonderful 48 hours. We took the subway to get everywhere, we stopped off at tiny boulangeries to get breakfast and grab lunch. We spent the night in a tiny hotel room with an even tinier bathroom.

But this post is not about all that. It is about our first encounter with French pronunciation. I have always had a problem with French pronunciation  Nothing is ever said the way it’s written and I have a problem rolling my r’s the way they do. This isn’t such a problem when I am reading books because I can make up pronunciations in my head. However I would never venture to use a French expression in my conversation unless I was a 100% sure I was saying it correctly.

Before we went to Paris, almost everyone had said to us that the French can be fairly unfriendly and rude, that they wouldn’t speak to us in English even if they knew the language, so we should make sure we have directions before we left the hotel, else we’d spend the whole day just looking for places. With all that advice, we were worried but we figured we’d just take the day as it comes.

After having gotten off at Gare du Nord we made our way to the hotel to drop off our bags. We also wanted to get as much information from the concierge desk as was possible so as to not have to ask locals for directions. At the hotel we gathered a number of maps and the receptionist was quite helpful, since she probably realized that French was not our strong suit. However, she wanted to know where we would be going first so as to better direct us. The DH and I looked at each other and he decided he was going to tell her where we were headed.

“We’re going to the Shaam de Eli” is what he said. The receptionist looked puzzled. “What?” she asked. We both knew he wasn’t saying it right and feeling mortified, too. The DH, though, was committed to the task of getting directions. “Shaam de Eli” he tried again.  “There’s no such place in Paris.” she retorted.

“It is a really popular tourist destination in Paris.” countered DH. “Well, I’ve never heard of it and I have lived here all my life.” she said, insistently. All through the exchange, I stood there wondering if we could slip away and with any luck, the receptionist would have finished her shift by the time we got back in the evening. In frustration DH pulled out one of the tourist maps that the receptionist had given and pointed to the place we wanted to go to – it’s marked by the arrow below.

Tourist map of Paris“Oh, you mean Champs Elysees ” she said, the light of understanding dawning in her eyes mingled with the slightest bit of derision in her tone.

Well, that settled it. For the rest of the trip, every time we needed directions we whipped the map out and pointed to where we’d like to go. Contrary to what everyone had said, we met a number of friendly French people who pointed us in the right direction. The next time I go to Paris or anywhere in France, though, I am going to make sure to do a quick lesson on how to say the names of the places we want to visit. Hopefully we will avoid the “Shaam de Eli” fiasco that way

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12 thoughts on “Shaam De Eli

  1. Err.. This happens with The Bloke even here in Karnataka.. Not because of the pronunciation but somehow he manages to get it wrong! In our case, ‘Devarayan durga’ becama ‘Dev Narayan Durga’!! And since it was a short trip, I never had a look at the map and I assumed it to be ‘DevNarayan Durga’ until at one point people corrected us after we inquired for directions.

    1. In India, I think we’re used to local names being mangled. The “south” Indian in sadda Punjab and the Punjabi in Chennai will put paid to appropriate pronunciations. In Paris, though, there is underlying sense of outrage that we dared get the pronunciations wrong. It terrified us enough to not want to name any of the tourist destinations for the remainder of our time there.

  2. another beautiful travel write up. Thoroughly enjoyable. I know French and can speak but have difficulties writing it. prefer English..hehe..but its gud o know a new language:)

    1. So, the next time I decide to travel to France I just need to add “Learn French Pronunciation from Vishal” to my to-do list 🙂

  3. Reminds me of the time when our Masters class had gone to Salem for field work. I was the only Tamil speaking one in the class. Note speaking not reading and writing. We used local transport to get around to various locations. One day, due to a mispronunciation managed to get my entire class to another similar sounding village about 40 km away.

    I can laugh about it today, but at that time I had to hear things like, “How could you?” “But do speak Tamil don’t you?” 😦

    1. See, you and I must have been sisters in our last birth or something. I would have done the exact same thing… my dad’s idea of entertainment when I was young was to make me read Kalki’s “Ponniyan Chelvan” And then the whole family would sit and guffaw at my attempts 😦

  4. Looking for blogs on “Gandy” and how everyone India seems to understand what is being said, no problem. I think much of this is due to the nose being pointed at the roof, which constricts blood flow to the brain, limiting contextual processing. Go for Spanish I say!

    1. Well. so far we’ve not worked on French or Spanish. At this rate. the only language lessons I’ll do are probably after retirement

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