A friend of mine was in Paris for the first time last week, and fell completely in love with the City of Light. Understandable, as it is one cool city, with the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Seine, and the rest of it.
Like London, Paris is way too cool and way too close for us to not go there every year. It’s right there, a two-hour flight, and well, even if my French isn’t what it used to be – those two years of French I slept through, literally, at college, have been reduced to a funny anecdote – I hear the French speak English these days.
Besides, I always have my fingers to point with, like the last time Wife and I were in Paris, and I wanted to buy a croissant. I climbed the stairs from a subway station, saw a guy selling stuff in the corner and realized I was hungry. Well, I knew I was hungry, so I had been constructing this sentence in my head for the last three stops – “Bon jour, je voudrais…” – to make sure I’d be ready.
I was ready. The man looked at me, waiting, and I was standing there, making up my mind, looking at the pastries. Finally I pointed at one of them, and said:
“Un” – pronounced, “ungh” – nodded a lot, and pointed with my finger even more.
And then I added, “och en cola light”. “And a diet Coke”, in Swedish.
Somehow, Swedish, not my native language, either, had pushed French out of that part of my brain where all the foreign languages are stored, and there was only space for one, um, sound.
That was in 2001. It’s been too long since our last trip to Paris. And who knows, maybe Swedish has hopped out of that French part of my brain again.
But, good manners and a nice face can take you far, too. One day, Wife and I took the train to Versailles, the wonderful palace of Louis XIV, the Sun King. We walked around, we admired the castle, the garden, and had a nice late lunch at a nearby cafe, in the warm Parisian spring sun.
When we got to the train station, we saw that it was about to leave, so we ran the last twenty meters or so, and jumped onboard. There were no seats available, so we ended up standing next to the doors, which, oddly enough, were still open, even though we had thought the train would leave.
Just then, a nice old lady – or maybe not nice, just a lady, who knows – came rushing to the door, with a bag that had a Versailles poster sticking out of it. I knew it was one of those nice Versailles posters because I had seen them everywhere earlier. She looked at me, I looked at her, and being a nice guy, in Paris, the gentleman in me stepped down a little and helped her lift the bag onboard.
The second the bag was inside, the doors closed, and the train left the station. Even though I realized right away what had happened, my brain was way too busy trying to summon enough French words for me to construct a story I could tell the conductor, so I just stood there. I understood that we had to get the bag back to the lady. We couldn’t pull the emergency break … could we? No, we couldn’t. Don’t be silly, Risto. L’idiot!
Some real Frenchman took charge, he spoke with the conductor, while Wife and I stood next to the doors, leaning back, looking at the nice lady’s poster stuck between the doors, waving and flapping to everybody watching the train flash by.
Waving all the way to the next station where the doors opened, and somebody took care of the bag.