The Language Barrier

French English Dictionary


I am fearless about speaking French and probably not as good as I think I am. I say the words so confidently that even if I’m wrong I can convince people that I’m speaking French by my bold attitude. Many times tourists on the streets of Paris, thinking I’m French, ask for directions to the Palais Royal or a random boulevard.

So today when the telephone at our apartment rings I assume it is either a telemarketer or perhaps it is our landlord calling–so I answer confidently.

“Allo!” I say
“Allo,” a woman answers.
“Allo,” I say again waiting for the woman to ask to speak to someone, anyone.
“Allo,” she answers. Now it’s becoming something like an ill-timed knock knock joke.
“Qui est-ce que votre telephonez?” I inquire, asking her who she is calling.
“Desolee, je ne parlez pas anglais and je ne comprenez vous.” Transation: Sorry but I do not speak English and I don’t understand what you are saying.
This hurt. How did she know I was English? I thought I was dazzling her with my language skills. So I tried again using my best French. “Telephonez-vous Emmanuelle?” I asked. (Are you calling Emmanuaell our landlord who lives next door.)
“Desolee, je ne comprenez-vous,“she says. (I don’t understand you).
This calls for a new tactic. I could understand her but she couldn’t understand me so I will answer in short sentences.
D’accord.” I say which means o.k.
D’accord?” she asks increduously.
D,accord” I assure her.
“You understand me? She asks.
“Oui,” I reply.
“Is Emmanuelle out?”
“Oui,” I respond because it’s true, she’s out, she’s next door.
“Tell her that her grand maman called and ask her to call me back tonight. Tonight—can you do that, please?”
“Oui.”
“I’m sorry that I can’t understand you.”
“Not a problem.” I say.
“Merci.”
“De rien.” (you are welcome.)
“Au revoir,” she says.
“Au revoir,” I reply.
“Au revoir,” she says again.
“Au revoir,” I reply wondering if I’m supposed to hang up first but I don’t want to be rude. So we sit there for a minute, each on the other end of the telephone line, waiting. Finally she hangs up.

How I imagine the sweet grandmother to look


I walk next door to deliver the message. “Emmanuelle, your grandmother called and left a message with me to ask you to call her.”
“She did?” Emmanuelle says. I could see she didn’t believe me.
“She said she’d like you to call her tonight.”
Emmanuelle thinks about this for a while. “It’s my birthday today. That’s probably while she called.”

Bon anniversaire!


“In that case, bon anniversaire! “ I say with gusto, feeling confident that I had the perfect birthday wish right there on the tip of my tongue. Then my no-lo ehub(no longer estranged husband as he prefers to be called) says, “Did you just now wish her a happy anniversary?”
Confidence shaken. I rush to the English/French dictionary, and there it is, right there. Bon anniversaire. I knew I still had it!

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