Wednesday, April 20, 2016

And They Laughed at Me

The French, collectively, have been accused of being humorless.  And, aside from gossiping about others, they have largely confined themselves to making fun of outsiders.  All you have to do to not be laughed at is to be French.  And I don't think you're particularly safe there. 

As a "sale Americain" (dirty American) I got my share of laughs; directed of course at my talents (apparently none) at speaking French.

The first insult came to me as we were having a nightcap beer at the hotel bar in Honfleur.  We and the bartender were the only visible signs of life in the place so I genially addressed the bartender in French.

Whereupon, he sparkled a smile and said, brightly, "Would you like to speak English?"

On another occasion, we were having lunch at an "Italian" restaurant in Parly 2, an enormous shopping mall right next to our hotel.  Michelle ordered a vegetarian pizza and to say the vegetables were sparse is gross overstatement.  I ordered the gambas (prawns) in Pernod sauce and Richie scalloped veal.  All came with a salad, which in France is largely a collection of lettuces (unknown in America)  piled in a corner of the plate, sometimes with a sad little drizzle of dressing across them.  Not so that day.   

I reached for the olive oil bottle in the cruet with the balsamic vinegar.  It was slippery and it slid out of my fingers to score a direct hit on the top of my (full) water glass which promptly exploded like a bomb.  Glass shards flew everywhere and water cascaded on to the floor.    

Displaying typical sang froid none of the French reacted with shock.  The manager, however, nearly had a heart attack and was hysterical as he directed servers with napkins to mop up the mess. 

Order was restored and lunch was served.  I had to learn the hard way that ALL shrimp in France are served "peel and eat" style including the heads, feelers.  Consequently, it takes me awhile to eat.  Michelle was pensively eating pizza crusts and Richie was mopping up sauce before I finally finished.

As there is never a hurry (that I've ever seen) in a French restaurant, I went out for a restoring cigarette.  On my return, I and everyone else entering had to open our purses or shopping bags for a security guy just inside the front doors. 

After the others had marched in, I approached the guard and said (in French) "Excuse me, I know it's none of my business, but ... are you looking for a specific person?"  and he drew himself up even taller and said, icily, "Madam, I don't speak English."

I slunk away back to my seat at the table and indignantly related this insult, but Michelle and Richie only laughed and laughed.  Not quite the tears running down the face, hiccupping laughter, but damned close.

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