We slept for 4 hours just outside of Lille. Unfortunately it seemed that our luck for comfortable car sleeps had run out. We awoke cramped, not quite refreshed – and not quite conscious!
It would seem that our sleepless nights were catching up with us a bit. I curled my hair and did my make-up in our rental car while watching the flurry of truck stop activity.
Though I can read French and speak a little bit of it, generally I cannot fully understand what is being said back to me.
I bring tiny pocket sized language dictionaries on my tours, because I like to try to interact with people in a way that shows my respect for them and their country – instead of expecting them to speak to me in English. Even if they can, it’s kind of a rude expectation, isn’t it?
Saying just a few words in the local language takes away the rude factor, and makes people happy.
You can think of greater Europe as a circle with the majority of residents of the left half of the circle speaking or understanding French (or a related dialect).
Up the right side of the circle, the same applies for German. Where they meet at the top in Holland and the Netherlands, English can be heard everywhere.
The Dutch are very accustomed to international trade and tourism, learn English in school, and are unlikely to be offended by conversation in English.
So you really only need two language guides to get through most of Europe – French and German.
Fortunately our chosen location had a restaurant. And like every other road trip, I was dying for some ‘fresh’ food and settled on a less than spectacular salad.
When I ordered my meal in French, the cashier thought my understanding was better than it is. When he asked us where we were from and we replied Canada, he announced our arrival to the entire place (OMG embarrassing!) and shouted (with his arms dramatically flying in the air);
Bonne journée (have a good day), bonne nuit (a good night), bon week-end (a good weekend), bon voyage (a good trip), and have a nice life (in English)!
After which he broke out in song and was quickly joined by the other patrons. What was he singing? I have no clue – but it must have been some sort of French anthem, because the other customers certainly knew all the words.
Hilarious. We were both red-faced and under the interested watch of every patron of the restaurant by the time we sat down to eat.
I did take this as a sign. I have been to France a few times before and have had horrendous experiences. In 1987, as a young teenager, I was detained in Paris for suspected shop lifting (and was let go, because I wasn’t – but what an experience, more about that later).
I was also robbed by a cabbie and dropped off alone, many kilometres from my hotel. On a later visit I was publicly insulted and bullied by a staff member at a Hostel because my French was substandard and feeling awkward I switched to English.
After being called a few horrible names, I was intentionally given dramatically wrong directions that almost resulted in serious disaster. We even narrowly escaped being beat up by a French gang in front of the Moulin Rouge.
Maybe this time would be different, I told my husband, maybe this time we would experience all of the things others seem to experience – romance, culture, fine foods and great wines. My fingers were crossed.