In Paris with our Ps and Qs

It’s easy to forget things when you’re traveling. I forgot my toothbrush. And since my French consists of saying ‘Good day’ and ‘Thank you’ I haven’t figured out how to replace it yet.

Yes, Parisians can be haughty and cavalier to the point of being brusque. – It’s their city. Leave them be. – Most of the time they respond nicely to good manners. Greet the sales clerk as you walk in the store, the desk clerk at your hotel, your waiter.

Say, “Bonjour, madam” or “Bonjour, monsieur.” You’ll be rewarded with same – and sometimes much more. Most Parisians know at least a smattering of English. They’ll laugh at their own mistranslations and take yours in stride.

The street artist must be charming or he can’t sell you his work, but he’s like most artists: if you show your appreciation he’ll love you forever – or at least until the end of the sale.

French waiters are efficient and quick, which can be daunting when they’re in a hurry for you to decide and you can’t tell the difference between the Terrine de Saumon aux Epinards and the Aile de Raie aux Câpres. But oh when you land the waiter with charm and wit, such as we did.

ImageCute to the bone with a boyish grin, Jonathan corrected my French matter-of-factly and took our picture with “But of course –  it is my second job: photographer.”

Unlike most American restaurants where you’re handed  multiple receipts in the ubiquitous black holder without explanation, he handed each piece of paper to me separately: “This is your receipt. This copy is for you.” He paused. “This one is for me. May I have your autograph please?”

Merci,” I replied.

I think I’m afraid to say anything in French for fear the natives will begin speaking to me as if I actually understand them. It happens, but the notion is quickly dispelled with a smile and an awkward “Non. Just bonjour.” They usually smile back and nod, understandingly.

I know it’s easy to forget things when you travel, but with a word of thanks in another person’s language and a smile in my own, things, such as toothbrushes, are easily replaced…so long as I don’t forget my manners.


© Copyright 2012, Jane Harkins. All Rights Reserved.


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