Speaking the language

OVERHEARD: LUNCHTIME. BAJA FRESH. The manager behind the counter is trying to get orders out to customers. "Number 83. Nachos Carnitas. 83," he said into the microphone.

A Very White Man approaches the counter. "No," he said to the Spanish-speaking manager. "83 is nachos."

"Yes," the manager replied. Nachos WITH MEAT. Carnitas."


This exchange reminded me of two times where trying to speak French didn't go as planned.

The first happened in 1985, right after I graduated high school. Our school organized a trip to Europe every three years, whereby kids from rural Central PA could broaden their horizons and learn more about Our World. I think they called it the Cultural European Tour.

And so it was we found ourselves on line at the Burger King on The Avenue des Champs-Élysées (because really, nothing embodies the true culture of Paris more than a fast food restaurant on one of the world's most famous boulevards). (And this is to say nothing of the fact that several days before, we ate at Pizza Hut in London. But don't worry, Mom, I still learned a LOT!)

The guy in front of me in line, who I'm sure has since become a Pillar of his Community but then was, well, a 17 year old boy, stepped up to place his order.

"Yeah, uh, gimme summa them-there, uh, PUM-FREEEETS," he said to the pretty girl taking the order, and grinned.

The girl blinked and deadpanned, "You mean French fries?" with a glint in her eye.

"Uh… yeah."

Fast-forward to 1993, and I find myself in Paris again, this time on our honeymoon. It was a lovely October day and we'd spent it walking around the arrondissements,  soaking in the true local flavor. We came upon a vending cart, and as it happened, I was thirsty.  Eager to try using my Francais faible, I approached the woman and said:

"Une Coke-Diète, s'il-vous plait," in what I was sure was a perfect accent, one that would not belie my American upbringing to even a native Francophone.

"Eighty francs," she replied, in textbook-perfect English, completely bursting my bubble.

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Your turn. Please tell me about a time where you tried to use a foreign language but things didn't go as you thought they would. Merci beaucoup.