Who else recognises this phenomenon and can relate to this? Most people on here have, at the very minimum, enough French to be able to order a baguette, buy a newspaper and generally get by.
Apparently not so, even the more adept with the language will probably be able to identify with this.
You push open the door of the bakery (boulangerie – for those in the know) and you make your first fatal error. You say “Bonjour”, because that’s what one does. Instantly the patiently waiting, chattering clientele and the shop assistant are silenced. You may receive a quick “Bonjour” back, but you have spoken and they know that you are not one of them. (Just an aside this “not one of them” doesn’t just happen to non-French people, it can happen to French people from other regions). Anyway back to the story.
It’s your go now, you’ve arrived at the front of the queue and so you launch in your best French,
“Je voudrais un pain s’il vous plait.”
Silence. The assistant stares back at you, there is the ever so slightest hint of the Gallic shrug but it’s restrained, milking the moment with the pregnant pause, the assist replies,
You give it another go in your best French but nothing doing, you now find yourself willing this person in front of you to make that leap of logic. You are in a shop that predominantly sells bread based products, you have politely requested “Un pain” and the shopkeeper doesn’t seem to make the link between what you have asked for (even with your accent), what they produce out the back and what they sell every 30 seconds of every day.
You’re thinking ”Come on, what can you possibly imagine I would be asking you to sell to me. Me being in a shop that sells bread, you being a person that sells bread. I even gave you a clue by asking for, well, bread. Please make that connection, I even have my €1.20 open in my hand, it corresponds to a price of one of those things you sell, that you sold to the previous five customers before me and will go on to sell to every person in the ever lengthening queue behind me, what can you possibly think I am asking you for ? A three weeks artificial snow skiing trip on Copacabana beach with free nocturnal pigeon shooting thrown in perhaps ???”
This has happened to me on more than one occasion and I can only conclude that either I speak really bad French, or it is their own special way of accepting us. Telling us that they know, that we know we are different, but that they love us anyway.
Please tell me I am not alone, that it doesn’t just happen to me.