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.
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