My first trip to Paris was an accident.
My brother and I had just returned to London from a trip up to Scotland. When we arrived, the weather was miserable, and neither one of us felt much like running around the city in the rain, fog, and cold. Stopping in an internet cafe, we were going to look through Frommer's Online to find something interesting to do indoors, when I accidentally clicked on France instead of England in the little European navigation map. "Hey, you want to go to Paris?" I asked. "Okay" said my brother. So we booked a hotel on Expedia and off we went to the train station.
Three hours later, we were wandering around the streets of Paris trying to remember what hotel we had booked. Since neither one of us understood a word of French, this was not an easy prospect. All the hotel names sounded the same. We ended up having to call back home to my mother, wake her up, and have her go to Expedia and tell us the name and address of the "third hotel down the list on the fourth page" ("PARIS? WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN PARIS??") Of course, since we had not planned to visit Paris, this information didn't do us much good. We had no map and no way of knowing where the hotel actually was. Fortunately, the natives were very patient and friendly in helping us find it... a tiny little place with a view of the Eiffel Tower (if you stuck your head out the window and looked 90-degrees to the right).
For two days, we bummed around Paris, hitting all the touristy spots... The Eiffel Tower... Notre Dame... The Louvre... and even the Arc de Triomphe...
Photo by my brother, a far better photographer than I will ever be.
The visit was all too brief, but I fell in love with Paris and vowed to return.
Which I did the following year. But this time, I studied a Pimsler French course for three months before the trip. Speaking the language made my visit much more enjoyable, and I had four whole days to visit as many museums as I could manage before returning to London. A few years after that, I was in Germany and decided to meet up with a friend in Paris. My French skills had faded, but I could still manage to ask for directions and carry on a simple conversation.
The last time I was in Paris four years ago, I was dismayed to learn that my French skills were completely gone. I could barely manage to say "hello." When I got back, I immediately started listening to my Pimsler course again in an attempt to remember what meager French I had forgotten.
Fast forward to last week, and Laurence over at Bee Happy asks me to guest-blog for a day while she is on vacation. In a bold move, I decide to write my entry in French...
Two hours with my French dictionary (and absolutely no recollection as to how to construct a sentence) resulted in... something. Hopefully it's at least a little close to what I was wanting to say. My greatest fear is that I've mistranslated the text, and somehow end up insulting all of France. Since I would very much like visit again one day, the last thing I want is to be banned from the country over my crude French skills.
UPDATE: Laurence has shut down her blog, but I was able to find an archived copy of my entry. If you understand French, the original "Bad French" version is below, so keep reading.
If you don't speak French, Google can (kind of) translate my crappy attempt at French by clicking here.
Je ne suis pas Laurence. Mon nom est Dave2, et je t'apporte des salutations d'Amérique! Ma maison est dans une petite ville dans l'état de Washington. La région est celebre pour les pommes et le vin (le sol et la latitude est semblable a La vallée de la Loire)...
En France j'ai visité seulement Paris. Pouvez vous deviner ma chose preferée au sujet de Paris?
Mon favori est il le Tour Eiffel? Non. Le Tour Eiffel est merveilleux, mais ce n'est pas mon favori.
Mon favori est il le vin? Non. Le vin est incroyable, mais ce n'est pas mon favori.
Mon favori est il le pain et le fromage? Non. Le pain et le fromage est délicieux, mais ce n'est pas mon favori.
Mon favori est il les musées? Non. Les musées est beau, mais ce n'est pas mon favori.
Qu'est ce que c'est? Qu'est ce est ma chose preferée? Pouvez vous deviner? Non? Je vous dirai!
Mon favori est les waffles! Oui, les gaufres!!
Près du Tour Eiffel est un marchand. Il vend les waffles délicieux et je les adore...
Naturellement je peux obtenir des waffles aux Etats-Unis, mais elles goûtent meilleures à Paris!
J'aime marche le long La Seine à Paris au printemps tout en mangeant une waffle avec du sucre. C'est la meilleure chose au monde. Un jour je voudrais retour en France et voir plus du pays. Et pratiquer mon français (ce qui n'est pas très bon).
Mais d'abord je dois acheter une waffle à Paris!
Dave2 de Blogography
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as I said there…
Je pense que votre francais est merveilleux!
That’s 9 years of high school/college French and quite possibly very poorly written – I speak/comprehend much better than I can write!
I took French in HS, but I don’t remember anything.
I read your translated version.
There are a lot of “Not.”s in there. As in “Is bad monkey good? Not.”
Is it bad I read the entire thing in my mind with a bad french accent?
How did I manage to read that untranslated?! Apparently my 7 years of Japanese haven’t entirely killed my French comprehension! But don’t ask me to speak and/or write French(other than this beauty: Je ne suis pas ton chat!)
Ooooh, you wrote in French? Je suis très impressionné, petit chou! Now I must go check it out without the help of the translator, thanks :).
You did good tonite, but I hope we’re not freaking everybody out and ruining our relations with France.
Oh wait a minute, can we do that?
This is all George Bush’s fault.
Dave, vos qualifications françaises sont étonnantes ! I, aussi, gaufres d’amour et avoir connaissance apprécié de vos aventures à Paris. Merci de me donner l’occasion d’employer mes capacités linguistiques françaises qui ont été relativement inutilisées en 17 ans.
J’espère que vous dormez bien ce soir !
I speak no French at all but my wife has a degree in French. After not using it for fifteen years, she was less than useful in Paris. We only spent five days there, but we loved it. My wife wants to go back so bad, but our next trip is to London. I better start studying a language guide.
I have 3 years HS and 3 years college. I was able to read most of what you wrote (and in the end pieced it all togehter.)
The last time I spoke any realy French was to a French girl (in ’87). I was amazed at how well I was doing until she stopped me and said, “When you’re going to speak French to me, let me know so I know to listen for it.”
Dave has a brother? I wonder why I haven’t noticed before!
that’s a great photo!
Upon seeing the map, I realise that we’re going to be not too far away from DaveLand next month. Too bad I can’t cross the border. Though I guess I could always rocket-launch Troy from Kamloops, aimed straight to your backyard.
For starters, I haven’t had French since High School, 13 years ago. Yet I understood like 95% of what you were saying. So, good job.
Secondly, thanks for mentioning the folks in Paris being friendly and helpful to you. I get so tired of reading/hearing Americans bash all French people as “rude”. It’s refreshing for someone to not dwell in stupid stereotypes.
J’adore Paris! I actually could understand your post. I was amazed at how much French I remembered when I was in Paris.
I can’t believe I missed the waffles in Paris. Next time, I will definitely check it out.
My favorite place in Paris? The very top of Notre Dame. Even with all the tourists, it was very serene.
Your post on Bee Happy reminds me of Better Off Dead.
J’ai pris français pour sept années a l’école, mais ja n’avons pas beaucoup de practice…
It’s weird, I was actually looking at how much it would cost to go to Paris later this year earlier today. By train. On Expedia. Bizarre.
And as it happens, it’s cheaper than flying from my local airport, so we may just do it. Provided my girlfriend gets herself a passport in time.
Much like many of your commenters/readers I have an extensive background in French. This advice may be too little too late to help, but the French love it if you at least try to speak French with them. It shows humility, which I guess is a trait lacking amongst many American tourists.
Here’s a zinger! Eddie Izzard is a Yemen-born Brit comic that does standup in both English and French. Now that is truly mastering a language–when you’re able to tell jokes in your non-native tongue!
(I thought it would be important to connect this comment comedy somehow, seeing as I’m a standup comedienne.) Here’s a link to a video of him.
I’ve been reading Laurence’s posts for months using BabelFish so your translation didn’t read any differently to me. If I really wanted to offend the French I would write my post tonight in English and then translate it and publish it in French. I can’t even imagine how that would read!
It’s absolutely impossible to not offend the French, so no worries.
I seriously almost busted a nut laughing at the Google translation page. I pictured a French Dave speaking in English with a heavy French accent. This line nearly had me on the floor…
“What is what it is? What is it is my preferred thing? Can you guess? Not? I will say to you!
Bre… You’re still several steps ahead of me!
Adena… It cannot be helped! I think the translation engine must be from the 80’s or something… where they had all those lame “NOT!” jokes.
Shannon… Oddly enough, I would have had an easier time writing in Japanese (well, Kana, anyways!).
Hilly… Well, if you understand French, you may just need a translator for the translator! My skills are really poor.
RW… Seriously. It would be very, very difficult to damage US-French relations any further than they already have been. 🙁
Stephanie… 17 years?? Hey, you did a far better job than I did. You memory must be much improved over mine. 🙂
Yellojkt… Yes, English English is a real bitch to master, but the rewards of doing so will make London a much better experience!
Delmer… Ha! I had almost the EXACT same situation when I was chatting up a Japanese girl in Tokyo! Ladies are ladies everywhere, and it’s nice to know that some humor is universal.
Kilax… Probably because I rarely talk about my work, family, or friends in my blog! 🙂
Sizzle… Well, it’s got me in it, so…
Firda… Well I am very glad to know that the US has sealed our border to the north! You just can’t trust those Canadians! 🙂
Robert… I have no idea why the French are painted so badly by Americans. My experiences in Paris have been exactly the opposite. I find the French to be warm, generous, helpful, and charming… yet, as in any big city, indifference is easy to mistake for rudeness, so I guess that could be a factor. My personal belief is that American tourists can act like jerks, and are somehow shocked that they are treated poorly because of it. If you make even a modest effort to speak the language and understand the culture, you’ll be treated accordingly.
Robin… Notre Dame is pretty amazing all the way around. Though, I have a problem with heights, so standing on top is not quite the same wonderful experience for me!
Avitable… I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!
Neil… Taking the train used to be a cheaper, more hassle-free way of getting to Paris from London. Sadly, this turns out not to be the case anymore, with discount airlines having such remarkably cheap fares.
Lucy… On one of the Eddie DVDs they have a section of him doing stand-up in French. Impressive indeed!
Jeff… Probably quite badly, if this is any indication! Though, how much worse can it be than my poor attempt? 🙂
Dustin… Yeah, but you’ve seen me drunk, and it’s practically the same thing! 😀
If you go near Bastille, I’ll offer you a drink ^^
Poo. I’m dying to know – do you have a thing for languages? Maybe you pick them up faster than most?
Sergio… Sweet! I need something to wash down my waffles with!
LSL… Not necessarily. Here’s the story on my attempts to learn various languages.
I like to French kiss….does that count?
Dave, you are just layer upon layer of intricate ability. The wonder will never cease. Un peu aime un Gobstopper, non ? Baisers sucrés!!
I love France, the food, the wine, the tradition and the French people. We’ve been there about six times and have enjoyed our visits immensely! Provence especially but Paris, the Rhone, Nice, nice, nice. The farmer markets in Provence are to die for and we are anxious to get back again…
Reading the google translated comments I wondered why a few people were calling you ‘young stag’. Sadly it appears that Google was thinking here was French for young stag. Not some nickname you picked up as an American Gigolo in Paris. 🙂
I, too, am a something of a Francophile. J’aime la France!! Et, j’adore Paris!
The first time I was in Paris was 1984 with my sister on one fo those cheapie student tours, you know: 500 countries in 12 days kinda thing. My sister got spit on at least three times, but she was being such a stupid Ugly American (“I’m American, speak English, goddamit!”), I was tempted to spit on her myself.
I reminded her that WE were the foreigners, and stopped speaking to her less than 25% of the way through the tour. She was truly horrifying in her behavior.
I returned to France in 1990 and spent a month+ travelling around on my own. My language skills were rusty at best, and I knew I was massacreing the language (J’oublie beaucoup. Je casse la langue!). But, I never had a problem, even outside the major cities, where very few people spoke English.
As several of your other readers have mentioned, most of the French appreciate attempts to speak the language and are warm, friendly people. As long as you behave respectfully and treat others with dignity, they generally do the same, although some Parisiennes can be a bit snobbier, not unlike some Manhattanites.
I did get in a bit of a squabble with a waiter in Nice who refused to believe I was American. Initially, he thought I was French, but wondered where my friends were and why I was dining alone. When he realized I spoke English, he was certain I was British or perhaps Canadian. Turns out he thought all Americans were blond. We became friends and hung out for a while after that.
Yes, exactly. Most people would have thought that I was referencing the “Frahnch dressing, Frahnch fries, Frahnch toast,” silly people. Not you.
Ricky, I’m really sorry your mom blew up.
coucou! J’aime votre article beaucoup… de tout façon, j’èspere à entendre plus de votre français dans l’avenir! Continuez-vous à pratiquer!