Paris!

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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.

Cheers!

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One of the many stairways to different parts of the Louvre
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A corner of one of its lavish ceilings
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Looking through a window to a view of the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre

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Another gorgeous stairway
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While waiting in line at one of the kiosks (!)

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There were many cavernous hallways like this throughout the Louvre
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Just near the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens
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Author: Terry Lewis

I'm a guy in his 50's who thought it might be fun to write about day to day issues - the stuff that life is made of. It's helped me think and develop some deeper perspectives. I enjoyed it so much I thought I might start posting it in a blog, and here we are! I intend to mix it up as much as I can. I am a thinking kind of guy so the majority of my posts will probably have some kernel of truth or (hopefully) wisdom nestled in there somewhere. But I also hope to have some light hearted posts as well. Too much thinking can make life pretty dull! Anyway, hope you like it.

7 thoughts on “Paris!”

  1. Fabulous photos, and thank you for sharing your trials and tribulations with trying to speak the language. I was so heartened by the waiter who made a deal with you. To date I haven’t tried to use my very limited language skills elsewhere. For me it would be a trip to Japan and one of the key phrases that I do remember is one of yours – I do not understand 😉. I look forward to more of your travel photos.

  2. You may not consider yourself a photoblogger, Terry, but I think your photos are wonderful! As is your writing, like always. I wanted to hug the waiter also who suggested you speak French and that he reply in English. What a marvelous approach! But please don’t be disheartened about the rest of the folks who simply switched to English, or who showed impatient tolerance. In your innately empathetic way you’re spot-on about the wait staff, who were busy enough as it was without trying to provide a French lesson. And everyone else? Well … most were just trying to be helpful, I’m sure. I’m preparing for my 16th visit to Paris and over the past two decades I have studied the language to the point of near-fluency, yet folks still switch to English even when I’m using French idioms and discussing complex topics like politics and media imperialism (yes, really!). It used to offend me, until I realized that the important thing is being able to *communicate,* not the language in which the communication occurs. Plus, whether we get to use our French or not, learning a bit still shows our interest in another culture, and it still benefits our 50-something brains by adding new neurons. So — as the French would say — bon travail! And please do keep at it, so you’ll be even more fluent for your next visit. 🙂

    1. I envy your near fluency in any language other than your native tongue! That certainly wasn’t my goal in preparing for the trip, but certainly next time (whenever that is) I will build on my rudimentary knowledge a little more, and we’ll see how we go.
      And yes, one of the reasons I have been studying Cantonese, is not just because my daughter lives in HK, but I also want to keep my brain sharp. I am a LONG way from being fluent in that language either, but I will persevere

      1. I hope I didn’t sound braggy — I do have an unfair advantage: Having grown up in Latin America, I grew up speaking Spanish, so French has come a bit more easily (though I speak it with a ridiculous Spanish accent). But if ever I attempted something like Cantonese I’m sure my brain would just stop. So good for you, Terry! Even attempting an Asian language is very impressive indeed — let alone persevering at it.

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