Saturday, July 19, 2014

Adventures in Not Speaking French

I ate lunch at the café at the Great Mosque this afternoon and could not for the life of me explain to the waiter that I could read the French menu perfectly well and didn't need an English one despite the fact that I didn't understand a word of what he had told me about why I couldn't eat lunch on the patio but had to eat indoors even though other people were eating lunch on the patio. It was a little bit "Excuse me, does anyone here speak English? Or even ancient Greek?" Vestiges of Oriental Studies and all. Frankly, I think I'd have an easier time getting around in 1930s Cairo.


A guy in his early 20s came up to me and started to ask me something in French, and I stopped him and said, "I'm sorry. I don't speak French." And he said, "Oh, you speak English. That's a relief." He was obviously an American college student, and asked me if I knew where something was. I didn't. And he said, totally innocently: "So what are you doing here if you don't speak French?" If that's the attitude that American college students are developing about travel and language study, maybe we're not in such bad shape after all.


On my way home, I stopped to buy a baguette. There were two Korean kids in the bakery, obviously tourists (their parents were standing outside) trying to buy macarons in very halting English, and the baker either did not speak English or was feigning not doing. And he turned to me, and I could understand the gist of what he was saying, which was a huge complaint about why people can't just learn to speak French. I figured that wasn't the moment to mention that I haven't either. I managed to buy my baguette without incident. 

No comments:

Post a Comment