My French vocabulary is decent. My verb conjugation, however, leaves something to be desired and makes me wonder if I sound: a) like a charming American making her best effort or b) like an illiterate bumpkin whose courageous effort falls way short of the goal. For those of you whose language skills may deter you from venturing into the French countryside, I say, “So what? Go!”
Naturally, I have a couple of interesting stories to accompany those statements. In early August, after roaming around the West and South regions of France, we parked ourselves in Lyon for a couple of nights. Over the previous few days, my husband had developed a ring-looking rash on his inner thigh. I thought it looked like old-fashioned ringworm – we had, after all, been in the fields, farms and general countryside. And it seemed to be spreading.
Hmmm. We need advice. Hmmm. This situation calls for more than everyday French. We walked to a nearby pharmacy, where I tried to explain this “cercle, rouge….oui, ici”, and I pointed to the site of the problem. Too difficult, this conversation. We called our friend in Paris and had him explain the problem to the pharmacist. “Ah. Oui.” The pharmacist recommended a cream, and we were on our way.
A few days later, we arrived in Le Mont Dore. No, that town was not chosen by design but definitely by a wandering sort of journey. The cream had not solved the problem. We sought another pharmacist (in this much smaller town, by the way), who recommended we see the local doctor. Bien.
This rather straightforward female doctor heard. She examined. She conquered. Apparently there is a kind of insect – usually descending on the countryside in August – that causes this kind of rash. Voila! Prescription in hand; we go back to the pharmacy, get the medicine and apply as directed. All’s well that ends well!
Another unique situation occurred during our stay in Amboise in the Loire Valley. We found a ‘laverie’ – a laundry center to wash our clothes and were quite proud at negotiating our way through the machine directions and coins required.
There we sat amongst a congenial group – part French-speaking, part English. The London
bombings had just occurred, so the latter group was abuzz with that occurrence. When we checked the washer to transfer our laundry to the dryer, the door would not open. We tried and tried. The washer door would not open.
Hmmm. This is a problem. Our clothes are held hostage. What do we do? After a few minutes, we finally spotted a phone number on a posted sign. Here we go again, I thought. Again, this is not an occasion for every day, stumbling French.
A man answered the phone. “Bonjour,” I began. (Good start, don’t you think?)
“Je suis Americaine et c’est une problem avec la maquine de la laverie. » Phew. I think that was good enough.
“ I speak English, “ he said. WOW (or was it whew!), I thought.
He and his wife quickly came to the laundromat, and she explained to me that sometimes ‘the wire from the bra gets into the machine’. In the meantime, my husband was watching her husband fix the machines and saw the teetering plyers drop. Uh oh. Suddenly the electricity to the whole place was kaput. Even the entry/exit door would not open, because – mais oui – it was electronically controlled. Now WE were hostages!
Well folks, everything ended well. Electricity on. Clothes dry. An adventure shared in Amboise by a bunch of strangers and a pleasant business owner. So all of this is to say, don’t worry. You can make it through anything, anywhere in France. The people are jewels…and you will figure out how to communicate.