Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pauvre Philippe

Last night I got over my hatred of live music and went to an organ recital at Notre Dame. It was everything you'd expect an organ recital in Notre Dame to be...which is to say that I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would eat afterward, and how I wished I'd brought an umbrella, but I also managed to focus a bit on the music, and how magnificent the church is, especially when it isn't crawling with tourists and their cameraphones.

After the concert, a man who I'd been commiserating earlier with about the rain invited me out for coffee. My first indication that this would not go well should have been when he asked me in French. His first indication that it would not go well should have been when I had to squack "Quoi?" the first few times he asked.

But I've been spending all of my time with travellers and expats since I got here, and have barely spoken a word of French, so I thought it would be a great chance to put all those years of French Immersion into practice. Plus my pretentious sixteen year old self would have died if I'd passed up the opportunity to say things like, "Oh, we met after an organ recital at Notre Dame. Because we're really, really cultured."

Pauvre Philippe.

The problem is that I stopped taking French in the middle of grade three. And the stories I learned about Luc and Fido don't do me much good in Paris. And if Philippe had wanted to name shapes or colours, or asked me to tell the time, even, we would have had a great time. Instead he seemed to want to talk about organ music, which I wouldn't even be able to do in English. I think I said something like, "The organ is nice. Notre Dame is very cute."

Then we did that thing travellers do where you flip between languages and no one really says anything and you repeat stereotypes about your own countries. "I'm from Canada. Canada is big. It is cold. You're from Switzerland? Are you good at skiing? At keeping secrets? I like chocolate." And just to make sure that he could understand my broken French, I made sure to yell it all. (I find most foreign language problems can be resolved by repeating things just a little louder.)

It's a sign of how disastrous the evening was that I'm now thinking - "cheese! I totally forgot to say, "I like Swiss cheese"! That would have given us another 30 second of conversation! Especially since Swiss cheese is just about the only kind of cheese that I don't even like.

Pauvre, pauvre Philippe. Maybe I should stick to the expats.

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