Goodbye, London; hello, France. No more English. I’ve been wanting this for so long – to be amongst the French, to try and speak their language, to make them like me. God, please like me!
Why the heck is that so important? In high school my French teacher told us that the French are not the most welcoming of Americans. But if you speak French, they’ll like you. Or at the very least, be nice to you.
Isn’t speaking another language so cool? When someone can speak two languages, I think it’s the coolest thing ever. I’d love to speak Spanish just because most people do, especially people I work with in the service industry, but my background is in French. I at least have a starting point in French. My strength is reading and pronunciation. I can’t always understand it, but I can usually pronounce it. I definitely have a much better chance of understanding French when I read it, as opposed to hearing someone speak it. They speak so freaking fast. No matter how many quizzes I take on Duolingo, nothing prepares you for an actual conversation with a French person. But that’s why this is so great! The only way to learn is to experience. And I have been looking forward to this experience for years.
We take the train from London to Avignon, with a stop in Paris and a very quick stop right outside Avignon. We have to switch trains here. Holy shit, this is it. It’s happening. I feel like I’m on the high dive and I don’t want to jump but there’s a long line of kids waiting behind me. Everything said over the loudspeaker is in French. All the signs are in French. How the heck are we supposed to know how to find our next train? I’m not ready for this! But wait, I’ve been planning this for so long. I know exactly what I’m going to say:
Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait. Je suis americain. Je parle Francais un petit peu. Parlez-vous anglais? (Excuse me, please. I’m American. I speak a little French. Do you speak English?)
There’s plenty of people working here, but as Steve and I hurriedly walk around, I keep chickening out. Steve walks right up to someone and says, in perfectly clear English, “Excuse me…”
I don’t hear the rest. I just see him showing the person his train ticket. He walks back over to me and I am SO mad at him. Why did you just talk to that person in English?! You know I want to speak French.
As soon as it comes out of my mouth, I know that I’m being ridiculous and completely unfair. Steve does too, and snaps back. “Then why aren’t you? We don’t know where we’re going. We’re going to miss our train!”
Steve and I aren’t the calmest people when it comes to traveling. We’re the people who get to the airport three hours early. We’re the people who can’t relax until we’ve reached our destination.
The last person pointed us in one direction, but we still don’t know where to go. I finally take the plunge and approach a man working there. I give him my speech and he responds with, “un peu” (“a little”).
Oh. OK. Good. Uh… I didn’t really plan for after this, so I just show him my ticket. He shows us our train, and we get on. I breathe, feeling as if I was just holding my breath through that entire exchange. We are really in France. Soak it up. This is a 10-minute train ride. We arrive in Avignon and walk out the front door of the train station. Not sure exactly where we’re going to find our hotel, but we know it’s walking distance.
Straight ahead is a main road. Let’s go that way. This place is so cool! Cobblestone streets, old buildings, cool architecture, and quiet. Steve tells me what streets we’re looking for and I finally see a street sign that tells us we’re on the right track.
In London, we never knew what street we were on. It was so confusing! There’d be four different street signs on the same block. Many times a street would be called something and then turn into another street name on the next block. The street names are posted on placards on actual buildings. They don’t have signs on the corners of the streets. By the end of our stay, we finally figured it out.
It was supposed to be pouring when we arrived, but it seems to be holding off. The skies look ominous, but not a drop yet, and the air feels wonderful. It’s a nice short walk to our hotel. And what a cute little hotel it is. No one is here to greet us (which seems weird, but most things seem weird in a foreign country). Steve sees a bell on the front desk. “I think you’re actually supposed to ring it here.”
Steve rings the bell and after a little more waiting, a young woman walks out and greets us. “Bonjour!”
Bonjour! I give her my spiel. She responds in her adorable French accent, “A little.” This girl is very sweet as she explains the area to us. Steve can’t help himself. If someone offers us help and information in a foreign place, he will get as much out of that person as he can. “And, one more question…, and, just one more thing…., and, do you know anything about this?”
We go to our room with about six different options for restaurants that night. It’s a very tiny, adorable little room. We love it. So cute! So French! We drop our stuff and head out. It’s about 7:30pm and still, no rain. We are really lucking out. It’s actually quite a beautiful night. Steve uses his GPS to navigate us through the tight, winding, charming cobblestone streets. Like London, I can’t tell the difference between a street and a sidewalk. Something that looks like a narrow alleyway for walking ends up being a street for driving. I didn’t even think a car could fit through there.
This place is such a nice change of pace from the busy city of London. We find the restaurant and walk in. It’s completely empty. I hope that’s not a bad sign. As soon as we see someone, we greet them. Bonsoir!
My friend who lives in Paris gave us a good tip – when you walk into a restaurant or shop, greet them first. It’s like you’re walking into their home. If you don’t greet them when you walk in, it’s considered rude. I ask for a table for two. Une table pour deux, s’il vous plait. And we’re sat in a cozy table by the window. The girl who seats us says something very quickly in French, so I quickly give my spiel. (As the trip goes on, my spiel gets shortened to: Parlez-vous anglais? Because really, nobody cares that I can say a few extra words in French.) She smiles and says OK. She clearly doesn’t know much English. A man walks over with two menus written in English. Well that’s nice. It’s funny because the translation is done so literally that some of it is still hard for us to understand.
As will be the usual as we move forward in France, it’s a long meal. There is no rush between courses. There is no turning over tables. You can sit for as long as you’d like. It’s wonderful. By about 9pm, the place is completely packed. Seems that people in France eat dinner pretty late.
Back at the hotel, the air conditioner isn’t working. Thankfully, it’s a gorgeous night, so we open the window to let the cool breeze in. During the night, I’m too hot. There’s no cross flow, and now I feel itchy, too. I feel like I’m getting bit. Then I hear it. A buzzing in my ear. Motherfucker. I keep swatting at it, then covering up my body with the sheet as much as possible. There’s a lot of tossing and turning for both me and Stephen, but we finally manage to fall asleep.
In the morning, Steve says he feels like he got bit. When I tell him that there was for sure a bug in the room because it was buzzing in my ear all night, Steve is, let’s say, not happy. “Why are you telling me that? Don’t tell me that. I’m not going to be able to sleep in here tonight.” Um. Well I’m sorry but there WAS a bug in here.
Now I can see it, flying around Steve. It lands on the bathroom doorknob. Steve stares at it, disgusted. Tries to hit it with something but it flies away. Steve can’t stop scratching his entire body. The bug flies in front of my face, and I slap both my hands together, around him. Got him! I can’t tell if Steve is relieved that I killed it, or grossed out that I killed it with my bare hands.
If it was just one bug, it’d be OK. But no, there’s another one, chillin’ on the wall. BANG! I slap my hand on the wall. Bug blood smears. I try to wipe it off with a tissue but Steve stops me and takes a picture of the wall. Proof.
We have to get out of here. I will talk to the girl at the front desk. I will tell her that our air conditioner isn’t working. They’ll fix it, and everything will be fine for tonight. I’m getting anxious about how I will communicate all this with the French girl who barely speaks English.
Down at the front desk, a jovial Frenchman greets us. Give him my spiel. He doesn’t speak much English, but he’s trying. I looked up air conditioner in French (climatisation) and try to explain, in my best broken French, that it’s not working. (Ca casse.) He seems to understand and runs back into an office to flip some kind of switch or press a button. When he comes back out, he says something in French that I can’t understand. I continue staring at him and he smiles and gives me two thumbs up. “Good!” Oh, d’accord. OK. Great. Merci beaucoup!!
We leave for the day, happy to be out of that hotel room. I assure Steve that it will be fine for tonight. The Frenchman clearly fixed it. Steve is not convinced, but we try to forget about it for now.