Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A wee French Faux pas

On this trip, my French has definitely improved a lot. As I've been travelling solo for part of the time, I've been in full-on emersion mode with the only conversations I'm having being with French-speaking locals. The real test came when the NZ friend I was staying with had a minor fender-bender in a nearby village, thanks to France's insane give-way-to-the-right rule, which is basically an accident waiting to happen. The woman who hit us spoke no English, and we ended up going to her house nearby to complete the mountain of paperwork required to file a 'contrat amiable' (a detailed description of the incident that both parties agree to and sign, so the insurance claim can be expedited). I was able to translate both ways, and even gently, but firmly, persuade Madame that she was not entirely in the right.

However, as is so often the case, pride came before a fall. On Sunday, I spent the day in Saint Malo, a wonderfully restored/preserved late medieval - 18th century town that is still intact within its ring of massive stone walls (of which. more in a future post). Anyway, after having walked the walls (widdershins, of course) and climbed the chateau's tower for a view over the 16th century fort and wide, white sand beaches, I found myself in the shop of a local photographer.  The old boy himself was serving the customers, in between yarning to a couple of his mates. I ended up choosing a couple of photos, and launched into a discussion about packaging them so I could carry them home safely. And...that was when the fun began. First, I asked if he had some stiff cardboard to put around them. No, he says, but he has envelopes. I was thinking of those padded envelopes, so I asked if he meant envelopes with 'bulles', thinking of the French word for bubble wrap (papier bulle*). Well, Monsieur looked at me, looked meaningfully at his crotch, then he and his cronies fell about laughing and set to making a number of highly colourful jokes. Turns out I had asked for my photos to be shipped with balls, and not the kind that children and dogs play with! 

* A number of you may recall this vocab from 'The Great Bubble Wrap Incident of 2006', in which I, as the only French speaker, was sent on a perilous and ultimately fruitless mission to find enough bubble wrap to wrap and ship two bicycles from France to New Zealand. That is a LOT of bubble wrap...

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