Wednesday, August 08, 2007

parlevue english?

You have to hand it to the French. Nearly every other nation on the planet is learning and embracing the English language, but not the French. They don’t care if it affects their business, their politics, their foreign affairs, their tourism, or anything else. If you think you’re going to come to France and find people who can even muddle through some English, think again. They’re simply not having it. Either learn French or be prepared to really struggle to find what you need. I found that out the hard way.

Jamie and I arrived at the airport on Monday, stood in line to check our bags, haggled with the Ryan Air staff over all of our baggage issues (this airline seems to have restrictions on everything from the weight, to the shape, to the very colour of your luggage), only to find out that Jamie’s passport was expired. I just stood there shocked. Even more so, I picked up the passport and stared intensely at the dates as if I believed that, if I stared hard enough, they would change. They didn’t. As I was going to France to lead worship, however, there was no backing out, so we had no choice but to change our plans. I was going to France alone.

After the shock of it all, we were able to reach the U.S. embassy and get an emergency meeting for Jamie to receive an emergency passport. Still, she and Olyvia would have to come a day later which means that I was on my own. Now, normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but Jamie is the only French speaker in the family and was the only one who knew the directions from the airport to Les Pas Opton. In fact, I didn’t even know where we were going (a really bad habit I have).

And so I got Jamie and Olyvia safely on a train back to London, while I boarded a plane to Nantes, France. Upon arriving in Nantes, I made my way through passport control, picked up our bags (got asked if I was playing at the Celtic festival this week…sadly, no), and headed over to the car rental desk where I was handed the keys to a large bubble on wheels. Then I began the task of trying to figure out where I was, and where I needed to be. I knew that it was somewhere on the Vendee Coast, but I had no idea where. Furthermore, not only did my car rental place not have GPS, but the only one that did wouldn’t rent me a unit without the car (let the French snubbing begin). I was on my own.

Though I knew that I was somewhere on the outskirts of Nantes, I really had no idea where. Furthermore, the only map I had came in the French guide book Jamie had packed in our backpack, and it was and is the smallest, and saddest map ever conceived. All I could do was to try and drive southwest, make it to the coast, and then ask around to see if anybody knew where “Spring Harvest” was. I was in for a long drive.

After a bit of effort (and a couple of backtracks), I did eventually find a highway that was located on the “map” (thank GOD for numbered highways!). Problem was, I couldn’t decide which way I needed to head on that highway. There was just no way of knowing. None of the town names on the signs were on my “map” (and I use the term loosely). All I could do was to pick a direction and see if one of the town names that was on my map, eventually showed up. So I drove.

Eventually, not having any idea where I was, nor where I was heading, I got off the highway and pulled into a car wash where I approached a man who was washing his car. “Parlevue English?”, I asked him. Of course not. By some miracle, however, I had just happened to get off where another highway was passing through (Bare in mind that highways over here are rarely like American freeways. They’re sometimes just simple two lane roads. I have no idea why they call them highways.), and also where there happened to be a sign within sight. I showed him where I needed to be on the map and, through sign language and lots of French (he continued to speak to me in French even though I had made it very clear that I did not speak French), he pointed me in the direction that I needed to go. I eventually found a petrol station where I bought a real map and sat through another lesson in directions, and in French.

By some miracle I did eventually find my way to the coast and, once there, also realized that one of the documents given to me by Spring Harvest happened to have an address on it. I just hadn’t recognize it as an address. So, only two hours late for my meeting, and after having seen most of the French countryside, I made it to my destination where I was greeted…in English…sigh.

Now, there are probably several morals within the above story. And if I were Carrie, I would probably point them out to you. But the lesson that keeps coming back to me here is that there’s no such thing as pointless education. You see, In 5th and 6th grades, and then again in high school, I actually sat through French classes at school. I say “sat through” because very little learning actually took place. At least not on my part. I was living in Oklahoma and the closest French speakers were in Canada (I’m not including the Cajans here because they also speak English) and, let’s be honest, who cares? So why in the world did I need to learn French? And so, after more than three years of French, I knew how to tell somebody my name (She’s my pal Tim Miller), knew how to say cheese (fromage), knew how to say green (verde), could count to ten (I won’t go through it), and knew how to stress the word DAM on the end of MaDAM! That was it. And that’s how I found myself driving through the French countryside, in a rental car, approaching strangers, and asking them if they parlevued English (and overhearing every one of them whisper “dumb American”, in a snooty French accent, as I was walking away).

And so this plea of forgiveness goes out to my French teacher, Mrs. Girrard. Mrs. Girrard, you were a Saint (she’s catholic, so that will mean something to her), I was a fool, and I’ve truly paid the penance for my arrogance and stupidity. You were right, and I was wrong.

And if I had it to do all over again, I’d have at least listened long enough to learn how to say “Lance Armstrong owns you! Kiss my red, white, and blue backside!”

: )

Comments on "parlevue english?"


Blogger Dr. Brandon Keaton said ... (7:14 PM) : 

A few years ago I took my wife to France and it was the same thing. No one would speak English and I was not very good at the French, having only taken an intro class in college (and, of course, Mrs. Girod's 8th grade course). It is good to know that you could find your way home. Sometimes that is enough.


Blogger My2BoysNMe said ... (4:18 PM) : 

Again, having only had a half-semester of Mrs. Girod, I am about as fluent as you all! However, I do know one phrase in French, although I have no idea on the translation of that phrase. But I do remember Mrs. Girod saying it over and over, so it must not be a BAD phrase??? I'm just not sure whether I'm telling someone I need to use the bathroom or trying to save their soul!! (in my best English-sounding-out-ness...... Jip we too, parson wee, kimo forty fee) Who knows.........


Blogger Carrie said ... (11:24 PM) : 

I too remember Mrs. Girod repeating the same phrase but was too ignorant at the time to realize she was actually attempting to teach me something I would certainly need later in my life.


Blogger Larry said ... (10:24 PM) : 

You know, most of the people on the East Coast used to ask me what language you spoke when you came to visit. I used to tell them you spoke "Okie" which was some derivative of English akin to pig Latin. I wonder if you will be understood the next time you come back to the States.


Blogger blogblogblog said ... (5:45 PM) : 

Hey if this were Larry's blog, I'm sure he would have turned it into a question at the end about how people who have never been to church before feel when we, Jesus Freaks speak the foreign language of Christianity/Salvationim...

Hello, is no one going to pick up on the shameless plug about Tim leading worship at Spring Harvest. Please accept my firmly shaken cocktail of congratulations and jealousy.

She's My Pal, Drew


Blogger Dr. Brandon Keaton said ... (8:32 PM) : 

Ok, all this horrible French made me look Amiee's memory up. And it looks like this:

"Je puis tout par celui qui me fortifie."

OR Philippians 4:13.


Blogger Cari said ... (2:23 AM) : 

Girod, bonehead. Girod. I took Spanish. I actually use it here. (As does about 85% of the population...) I use it where I work..."How many beers have you had? No, really?"
Jim Apple-Cari


Blogger Dave said ... (7:44 PM) : 

I'll echo everyone else. Two years of French in high school. Six hours of Spanish in college. I don't speak a word of either.

Mercy buckets.

BTW, If I were you, I'd seriously consider Fred Taylor with that #5 pick on Sunday.


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