Riddle: What do you get when you cross an American trying to speak French and a Frenchman trying to speak English? Answer: A hilarious situation in which no one is speaking his or her native language and, therefore, he/she must resort to wild hand gestures to get a point across. The result: a complete communication catastrophe.
Okay, it’s not actually that bad.
However, in France they do speak French. This seems obvious, right? But really, everything, even the traffic signs, graffiti and television, is in French. Luckily, I have a few years of studying the language under my belt to help me communicate with the natives. In fact, my host mom tells me I’m good at French! Do I believe her? Not really. Here’s why:
Naturally, it is polite to at least try to speak French at first with shop owners, waiters, bus drivers, train station employees, crazy people on the street and so on. In fact, to learn French is technically the whole reason that I am here! Nevertheless, the situation that results is really quite comical. For example, yesterday I was ordering ice cream – which is delicious in France in case you were wondering – and after ordering what I wanted (in French) the shop owner replies (in English), “in a cup or cone?” Me: “Sigh...A cup please.” Also, after ordering my lunch at the student cafeteria, again in French, the student employee instantly asks, “Where are you from?” Dangit, is it really that obvious that I’m American?
Be it the constant American clumps I travel in that kind of resemble a herd of cows, or the hilarious kid in our group that can’t resist the full-out, two arm wave whenever he sees one of us, or the constant snapping of cheesy photos wherever we go, I don’t think our attempts to “blend in” are going to be effective just yet.
On the flip-side, it’s kind of cool to be the foreigner for once. I get constant questions about the United States, the American economy, the weather and my personal favorite, “Do Americans remove their shoes after walking in the door too?” Umm…yes?
Oh, traveling. What an adventure!