In May, I was fortunate enough to have traveled with my daughter to Paris to celebrate her college graduation. It was a busy time in Paris with soccer and tennis matches occurring at opposite ends of the city. We stayed in a hotel near the Bastille in a bustling, diverse neighborhood complete with its own patisseries, cafes, and even a soul food restaurant. It was a comforting area to return each evening after a day of sights, and arms loaded with souvenirs.
Every day of the vacation was delicious and we saw all the main tourist draws that you imagine—the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sacre Couer, etc. It was great to spend so much time with my first born as she embarks on her life after college.
My daughter is close to complete fluency in French. Studyng it for four years in high school after learning Spanish in a dual-immersion elementary school, then spending half of a semester in France before COVID shut down the program in 2020. She followed up with a few classes in college to give her the confidence and vocabulary to maneuver well beyond a week as a tourist.
I, on the other hand, speak some clumsy Spanish and recognize some French words when I hear them. When in conversation with the French locals, I looked to my daughter as my interpreter.
I was okay with the menus but had to concentrate to attempt some French phrases. Oui, merci, bonjour, and bonsoir were easy enough, but not natural responses for me. “Not English!” I would tell my brain. To my dismay, my language center’s response was firmly planted in a Spanish dictionary.
“Sí, … OUI,” I would catch myself most of the time. My daughter did not have a lot of patience for me as a conspicuous tourist so I kept trying my hardest to re-train my brain. In one particularly funny exchange we had arrived at Versaille and the welcome attendant offered a map. I nodded. “English?” the woman asked.
Don’t answer in English. Not English. Not English. Not English, I told myself.
“Por favor,” I responded in NOT English.
“Spanish?” she clarified.
“No,” I couldn’t help but laugh, and so did my daughter, realizing her tutelage was not successful. So much for trying to blend in. I felt like Mr. Bean when he heads to Cannes in “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.”