-ILR scale (Interagency Language Roundtable), I got to about a 2.5 out of 5 in Turkish (5 being that of a native speaker). In French, I'd say I'm at around .2, maybe .3. How profoundly inadequate I was on my seven trips to Paris. Yet shamelessly, well almost shamelessly, I went anyway.
Many people take vacations in a variety of places where the language spoken is not their own. But I venture to guess that Paris is the one place where, first of all, the gap between the written word and its pronunciation is a wobbly bridge to cross, and second of all, it is spoken by people who are perceived [by some] to be mean and rude. So the image of waiting in line at a patisserie for pain aux raisins with French customers and having to fumble with Je voudrais une (or is it un?) pain aux raisins s'il vous plais and the correct francs, well now Euro coins, while also trying to find one's glasses to read said coins is just too frightening to contemplate. What scowls, what high scoffing eyebrows will fill that tiny space like arcs of raisins!
Yet I have found that when I have made the least effort to open a conversation with shop keepers, restaurant workers and taxi drivers with my limited (but I am certain very well pronounced, hawnh-hawnh) French, I have received gracious and helpful responses. When I haven't (I remember one particular taxi driver who I thought would break his transmission, he shifted so hard, and a certain crepes waiter in Montmartre who implied that I should order more than I did - What else was on the menu, s'il vous plais?), I have stood my ground and said in English something to show that I am not intimidated, and immediately there was respectful deference (at least in my presence).
I have a Paris blog called Paris Deconstructed, which is like Jacques Derrida's "literary revenge on philosophy" in that it is my revenge on the myth that Paris is the Eiffel Tower and rude people. I call it synchronicity that this post today happens to be exactly one year since my last post there, July 18, 2009, the second part of a story of meeting Mrs. Schott. And here's a post about that Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, and my encounters with the legendary Mr. George Whitman, which was my very first post at PD. I'll post there again when I get a round tuit. (Today that's pronounced to rhyme with Paris (the French way) and Ile Saint Louis: a round too-eee.)
This post is part of my participation in the Paris in July blog theme sponsored by Karen at BookBath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea, and told me by my dear friend DS at Third-Story Window. So, if like me, you can't afford a trip to Paris this summer, do start your reading tour de Paris at those and other participating blogs where the lingua franca is just, well, PARIS. Bon voyage!