By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I’ll always have Paris.
Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait. I should say I’ll always have Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, where I recently spent eight minutes (huit minutes) sprinting from one airplane (l’avion) to another during an otherwise magnificent (magnifique) and memorable (memorable) trip to France (la France).
My wife (ma femme), Sue (Sue), and I (Jerry) flew from New York to Boston, where we had a layover of more than five hours (cinq heures) before crossing the Atlantic (Atlantique) to Paris and then, after our mad dash through the airport to catch our connecting flight, which was boarding as we were landing, to our final destination, Marseille (no translation).
It was during this interminable journey that I completely mastered the French language (francais). Using a book titled “Say It in French,” I memorized key French phrases (Ou sont les toilettes? Where is the men’s room?) and words (au secours! help!), then practiced saying them with a nasally intonation that would have sounded better if I’d had a head cold.
Unfortunately, I fell asleep during the last hour of the transatlantic flight and forgot most of it, though I managed to get by without insulting anyone, which might have gotten me in trouble with the police (gendarmes).
Fortunately, and contrary to their unfair reputation for being rude, the French people were extremely pleasant (agreable) and helpful (utiles).
Whenever I didn’t know what I was saying, which I can do in any language, I would ask, “Parlez-vous anglais?” (“Do you speak English?”) The very nice person who knew I was a fumbling American (americain) would smile, hold his or her thumb and forefinger an inch from each other and respond, “A leetle beet.”
Then that person would proceed to speak English with a charming French accent. To show my gratitude, I would speak English with a terrible French accent.
This came in handy when our luggage (les bagages) showed up two days after we did. I consulted my little phrase book for the proper reaction (not repeatable in either language) after being forced to wear the equivalent of a prison-issue T-shirt that was kindly provided by the airline. You don’t know what a thrill it is on your first visit to a foreign country to wear the same underwear (les sous-vetements) for 48 hours.
My mastery of French also came in handy when eight of the nine people in our party got violently ill. The sole exception was me (moi). It was not because of the food. Au contraire! The meals we had in France were delicious (delicieux). Rather, somebody caught a stomach bug that passed from one person to the next until the toilette almost exploded.
“Je suis pas malade” (“I am not ill”), I told Bruno, who, with his lovely wife, Gielle, owns Hostellerie du Luberon, where we stayed.
“Pourquoi?” (“Why?”) he asked.
“Vin rouge” (“Red wine”), I explained.
“Ha ha!” (“Ha ha!”) Bruno laughed. “You have French blood!”
When everyone was feeling better, we went sightseeing. The South of France is like rural New England, with its rolling green (vert) hills and farms. Vineyards (see: vin rouge, above) are everywhere.
I especially enjoyed the markets in Luberon and Cadenet, where I purposely stood in people’s way just so I could say -- in French, of course -- “pardon” (“pardon”).
One day Sue and I got into our rented car (la voiture) and took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, where we got lost thanks to the annoying woman whose voice, in English, was programmed into our GPS (Gallic Positioning System).
Her (for the 150th time): “Recalculating.”
Me: “Taisez-vous!” (“Shut up!”)
All in all, however, our trip was fantastic (fantastique). France is a beautiful country with wonderful people. Next time we go, we’ll see more of Paris than just the airport.
Vive la France! Merci beaucoup. And, to anyone who was within earshot when our luggage got lost, pardon my French.
Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima