Tuesday, February 07, 2006


When we first arrived in France, I felt prepared. After all, I had studied French from 8th grade on, earned a spot in the top 3 of the National French Exam in my state three years running, had minored in French in college (plus testing out of 2 classes with my prior knowledge) and I had been practicing since we found out we were coming, about 9 months. I was ready.

Then I got off the plane.

WHAM. (Sound of reality hitting me.)

What the? Hey, wait a... but I thought...Huh?

The reality was much different than the dream. The basics I had worked great in a classroom in the Midwest, but when faced with trying to set up phone and internet service, dealing with people asking if you wanted your bread "tranché" or not, and desperately begging someone, anyone to give me a bank account because I promise I really, really will pay my bills--well, let's just say it was harder than I thought it would be.

The idea of leaving our apartment and actually having to face people and carry on a conversation that was important, like paying an electric bill or ordering pork chops at the butcher, sent me into a sweat.

That, combined with the seemingly never-ending Summer of 2005 and the lack of air-conditioning, created a lot of sweat.

And I mean A LOT.

Just having to answer a question made it spring from my forehead like Old Faithful.

Ordering dinner? Drip, drip, drip down the small of my back.

Asking for reimbursement when my metro ticket didn't work? T-shirt is soaked and I look like I am trying out for "Girls Gone Wild--Paris, September 2005."

But, the more I tried, the more I listened, the easier it got. I could ask for help from my resident experts (age 8 and 10). Pretty soon, things were getting easier. I could hear new things, new ways of phrasing, and know what they meant without having to ask them to repeat themselves. I could walk into a new situation without having to prepare by removing two or three layers of clothing, just in case. I started getting smiles from shop clerks, and cheerful "Bonjour, Madame!"'s from the shops I most often frequented.

Today, the old dread came back.

The new coffeepot we bought on Saturday cracked. It was kind of a weird, freak thing--it cracked in a swirl pattern on the bottom, never actually breaking through the pot, but I wasn't willing to take a chance of broken glass in our coffee, or having it shatter while filled with hot liquid. I still had the "Darty Contrat de Confiance". It promised that if anything went wrong, they would fix it. However, the last time I had trouble with a Darty purchase, it didn't quite work that way.

I was a little nervous.

It took a few minutes, and a few caramels, to screw up the courage to walk to Darty, which is conveniently located just minutes from our apartment at the Centre Commerciale (mall) Italie 2. I took the pot out of the bag, handed the contract to the customer service representative, and explained the problem.

He got quiet.

I repeated that it really wasn't my fault, that it must be a problem with the glass.

He asked me for my name. Then my address, phone number, etc.

I answered him, hoping that it wasn't so he could send a squad of goons to beat me senseless for daring to ask for a new pot for my cafetière.

He tappity-tapped into his computer. Looked at me out of the corner of his eye. Tappity-tapped some more.

Then, quick as a wink, turned on his heel and ran back to the stockroom.

He brought back a new coffeemaker. I said I just wanted the pot. He said, "Of course. That's what I was going to give you."

After opening the box, he drew out the new pot, with it's cardboard around it, and handed it to me. "Is that alright?"

"Yes! Yes, it's perfect! Thank you!"

He smiled.

"Thank you. Have a good day. Good Bye!"

I couldn't believe it.

Barely a drop. OK, one or two but not much. I made it. I did it!!!

I was so elated, I did a little window shopping before heading back. (OK, I probably would have anyway, elated or not. I'm just like that.)

I stopped into Celio*, a men's clothing store where I have found many things for Dr. B. They are having the French Soldes (big biannual sales) plus they are clearancing out before remodeling the store, so I found a shirt and sweater for Dr. B that were very fetching, his style and inexpensive. When I went up to pay, I was happy to see the salesman who had helped us in the past. He enjoyed speaking English with us, so I always say hello when I see him.

"Hi!" He said.

"Hi! How are you?"

"Fine, thank you. And you? I be on vacation soon."

"I see that. When do you close?"

"Mars. Um. March eleven. Eleventh. It was supposed to be tomorrow but... but they... they move... the date."

Then he does a little fake fanning of his face and says, "Oof. It hot."

I just smiled.

Full circle. Feels good.



At 4:23 PM, February 07, 2006, Blogger Chelee said...

I'm taking French at college right now and know that is exaclty how I'll be when I'm around a native speaker.(I'm coming to Paris next June)

Glad to know, that they get the same way in English some times....

At 4:27 PM, February 07, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

Send me an email! I'd love to have coffee when you're here! (I'll order, save you some sweating...) ;OJ

At 9:32 PM, February 07, 2006, Anonymous MandyinWisconsin said...

Great story! I have a question for you...Do the French celebrate Valentines Day? I assume they would but? who knows? If so, is it the same commercialized type of holiday there as it is here? Thanks for the great stories! I love reading them every morning!

At 3:22 AM, February 08, 2006, Blogger not so chic said...

that story made me breathe a sigh of relief...if only for a minute. i've been a student here for a month (i actually live right by italie too!), except i'd never taken french before arriving...it's getting better, but the day to day language stress, oy. i still haven't been able to tackle the butcher! i've been following your blog since november when i found out i'd be coming to paris...and it's been a welcome comic relief, and a city guide, especially in the 13eme. i hope to meet you sometime!

At 3:26 AM, February 08, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

If you look, my email link is on the main page, lower right. I'm up for doing coffee! (Especially now--my girls are on 2 weeks of school holiday, so I am free as the breeze.)

To Mandy in Wis--they seem to celebrate it, though call it "Jour Most Love" (weird!) I've heard it's an adults-only holiday though, so the marketing is mainly perfume, fancy candy and flowers. Thankfully, they don't raise the price of a dozen roses to 75 euros like the Americans do--flowers are much more reasonable here. I believe they took it from us, like Halloween, so it is celebrated, but not as much. Nobody does anything "as much" as Americans!

At 7:48 AM, February 08, 2006, Blogger Kat said...

Congrats, Mrs. B. Isn't it an amazing feeling when you realize you're actually learning something? That things aren't always going to be so tangled up and confusing? That's so great. Keep it up. Kudos to you, too, for just getting out there and giving your French a whirle? It took me three weeks to work up the courage to order a cup of coffee after I moved to Paris. Once I did it, though, I was off and running! Keep it up!

At 8:39 AM, February 08, 2006, Blogger ViVi said...

Oh YAY!! Isn't that the best feeling in the world, when you successfully complete a transaction in French! I feel so confident when something like that happens! :)

At 8:45 AM, February 08, 2006, Anonymous Rock said...

You are making me nervous to come Ronica! Oh well, I'll just have you speak the whole time for me.

At 10:54 AM, February 08, 2006, Blogger PutYourFlareOn said...


At 12:23 PM, February 08, 2006, Blogger Oz said...

Congratulations!! Isn't it a great feeling? One time, I had to exchange a pair of jeans for a larger size. The code for the jeans had not been punched in correctly at the till when I bought them. I had taken off the tags when I got home, so the pair of jeans and the receipt didn't match. After a heated debate with my broken French (I took your advice from a previous post), I was able to successfully exchange the jeans. I wouldn't want to go through that again, so I'll remember to keep the tags on next time!

At 12:29 PM, February 08, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

Glad to hear the Paris Fit is getting some use. I try to imagine myself a small, ratty terrier and it seems to add to the passion of the experience. 'Ra ra ra ra ra!'

At 2:21 PM, February 08, 2006, Blogger Deb said...

That must be such a nice feeling to be able to converse like that in French. I am envious!

I moved to France over a year ago, and I can only speak very broken French. Thankfully, I have my Frenchie husband to help me, but I still get extremely anxious and nervous if I have to talk to someone.

At 3:49 AM, February 10, 2006, Anonymous ernestranglin said...

Sorry but i don't think Valentins day come from the us,
see: St.Valentine
It seems to be a very old celebration...
I have never heard of "Jour Most Love" ?
We call this "La saint Valentin". And it's true, this is more an adult thing but
some childs or teenager give one present to his/her "chéri(e)" :)

two cents moreover ;)


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