I just got back from a two week overseas trip, to Paris first, and then Lithuania. It was a great break, and yes, you’re going to hear all about it over the next few posts.
I’ve wanted to go to Paris for, oh, decades I think, and finally got the chance. In the past I didn’t go because we had young kids and funds were hard to come by, as many of you no doubt can relate to. In more recent years I had been hoping to visit on business and then stay for a holiday but the opportunity never arose. So finally, we were going to Europe anyway (actually Eastern Europe) to visit Linda’s relatives, and so we bit the bullet and added Paris to the mix.
And we weren’t disappointed. We were there for 6 days, and when we left there was so much more we wanted to do. Could easily have spent another 4 or 5 days there, and even then I’m only talking about semi-touristy stuff – so many museums we didn’t get to, so many parts of Paris left unexplored. I dare say we could spend even more time than that just soaking up the atmosphere and lifestyle. Methinks there c0uld be another Paris trip some time in the not too distant future! We’ll see.
The architecture and general ‘layout’ of Paris is a photographer’s dream. Gorgeous sights everywhere, and the only thing that dampened this was that, after a while, gorgeous views started looking a lot like other gorgeous views we had seen earlier. Nevertheless, more innovative photographers would have a field day, and the rest of us would still have plenty of awesome shots to drool over.
As much as possible, I like to immerse myself in a culture when I visit a country, and of course there are all sorts of limits to that. We ate typical French breakfasts every day, spent time just wandering around the streets of Paris as well as taking in the most important tourist attractions, and tried our best to speak just a little French where we could. And that’s what I want to speak about for just a moment.
How many of you have tried to learn a bit of a language before you visit a country? And then find that your efforts are almost redundant? (still worth doing though). Let me explain.
I learned French in high school, 4 years of it. That was a long time ago, and I have never had need to use it since then. But now I was going to Paris! So over the last two months I went on as big a refresher course as I could.
I knew my limitations. I knew that I had the barest of a grasp of French, but could string a few important sentences together (like “where are the toilets”, “how much does it cost”, “two coffees please”, “I don’t understand”), enough to get myself out of trouble if I really needed it. And I had heard that French people like it if we foreigners at least tried to have a go at speaking French. So I went, excited at the chance to use some of what I’d learnt. Linda and I even spoke in rudimentary French to each other just for the fun of it (just Bonjour, Excusez moi, Merci – nothing clever!), to try and live the french experience a little bit more.
So, having done my best to prepare, when I spoke with the locals, I launched into my very shaky and awkward French. And got one of two typical responses.
One – they would speak to me in English straight away. Then I would feel foolish trying to speak any French, and so would continue to speak in English with them.
Two – based on my “Bonjour” or some other similarly short phrase (I have a fairly good accent), they would think I could understand some French and then launch into all French answers. Once they realised that I didn’t understand a word they said, they reverted to English and then the rest of our conversation continued in English only.
Sometimes I would doggedly try to keep speaking French even though they spoke to me in English. After all, I was able to speak a little bit, and they do appreciate us trying don’t they? But this usually evoked a slightly impatient tolerance on their part. And by the way, I don’t blame them. I remember one waitress, busily serving me and others, who was not at all interested in my attempt to speak French. But I persisted anyway, and you could see that it just made her job harder. She wasn’t there to help me improve my French, she was there to serve people, and here I was slowing her down by struggling to put words together and be understood.
As I said, I don’t blame her one bit. And I saw this kind response frequently on the occasions that I tried. But even though I understood why, I also found it just a little bit disheartening. It made me wonder whether I should have bothered at all.
And then there was one shining exception. We were at a restaurant late in the week, and I was attempting to speak French to the waiter. He responded in French, to which I had to reply “Je ne comprends pas” (I don’t understand). Then he did a wonderful thing, and said in English “Okay, let’s make a deal. I’ll speak to you in English and you try to speak to me French”. I could have hugged him there and then.
And so I prattled on for the rest of night, giving my orders in French, getting them more right than wrong thankfully, and growing in confidence with every step. Needless to say, he got a nice tip and my thanks at the end of the evening.
So what about you? Can you relate? Or perhaps you’re not as interested in language, and are just grateful the moment you realise they speak English and you don’t have to try any more?
And finally, here’s a few pics from Paris. I am not a photoblogger, but will be for the next few posts. These ones are from our visit to the Louvre. In the 4-5 hours we spent there we probably saw less than a quarter of its contents – it’s a massive museum.