Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Je suis une Americain

The thing that is a little deceiving about moving to London is that you are lulled into a false sense of security about becoming an experienced world traveler. Hey look! I just bought a tube ticket, I am so a world traveler. Woo hoo, I just bought a loaf of bread from the market, I am such a global citizen. I’m walking around this museum, I am such a cultured woman. And then, just two and a half hours away, my global citizen pride gets smashed into a million pieces, when I arrive in a city that doesn’t speak English. Suddenly, I am a sheltered little American girl, caught up in a sea of French. Gah! The ticket machine just spat out my credit card and is flashing a giant red X at me. Is that French for “Please wait as we print your receipt.”? My pre-printed maps and metro transfers from my web-sleuthing mean nothing if I can’t get a ticket. I normally don’t like asking for help, so I certainly do not like asking for help in a different language. I grasp what shreds of confidence I have from my two years of junior high French. I walk boldly to the ticket window.

Lynn- “Bonjour”

Ticket Lady – “Bonjour Mademoiselle.” (so far so good)

Lynn- “Une carnet, si’l vous plait?” (one booklet of ten tickets, please?”

Ticket Lady – (Pause) “Quatre?” (Four?)

My eyes go wide as my face pales as I am caught in my bold-faced “I can speak French” lie.

Lynn - (meekly) “Uh, ten?”

Ticket Lady – (not missing a beat) “Ah yes, of course.”

And here is the thing, I know practically everyone in the service industry in Paris speaks English, especially in the train terminal that goes directly to London. And yet, I fight it. Not that I want to appear native, but I want to someone honor the fact that I am in a different country. I equate speaking English in Paris to infiltrating other cultures with our consumer driven, Britney Spears dressing, Big Mac eating, bomb dropping ego. And so, as a result, multiple times on my journey, I would begin an interaction with a “Bonjour” and a few words scratched from an awkward stage in my past I particularly do not like to revisit. But the very next moment, the person I am addressing needs to ask me a question or clarify what I said because my pronunciation (ok, I’ll be honest, my word choice) was so off. I immediately revert to the wide-eyed American and they graciously switch over to English with a sympathetic chuckle which I believe translates as “Silly American. I caught her in her delusion she’s a global citizen.” I am honestly not this distraught about it, I enjoy having the sea of spoken and written French wash over me, although when I “pardon” myself off the metro with the slight guttural of the “r” and the nasal “on” at the end, I swear I hear snickering.


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