19 March 2015. Dijon, France
I was looking over a wide assortment of pastries behind curved glass when the barista said, “Bonjour.”
I was in the train station in Dijon, about to take a train to Geneva, and was looking for a delicious way to start off my day. I had been practicing for this moment for the last 15 minutes.
I was in France and was ready to try using French. Partly because I was hoping I had learn something on this trip and partly because I didn’t want to get another rude response back.
In both France and Italy I had experienced a little bit of frustration whenever I would ask, “Do you speak English?” People would begrudgingly respond, “A little bit,” or, “Yes,” or, “If I have to.”
I know it’s a stereotype for Americans to come to Europe and be mad that people don’t speak American, but I had tried to be nice in all of my encounters. But I wanted to try so I told myself I was going to make the attempt to speak in French.
I figured something as simple as a transaction, such as this, I could actually pull off.
After the barista started with, “Bonjour,” I responded with “Je voudrais pain au chocolate et de l’eau.” Phonetically, the way I said it, was “Jay voo dras pawn ah choc-o-lat et de lay ooh.”
The barista smiled and replied, “Your French is very good.” And for a split second I thought, “Wow, it is really good because I understood that!” And then realized she said it in English and was making fun of me.
I smiled and said, “Merci.”
While she got my food, I realized that your French has to be really, really bad if, when you speak French, they respond to you in English because they’d rather have to speak English than hear you butcher their language.
Truth be told, I wasn’t that upset. I had practiced my French like I wanted to, I got my pain au chocolat, and I had discovered an effective way to get French people to willingly speak in English to me. Not bad for a single transaction.