Learn French on the Train

We studied all the way from London to Paris while riding the Chunnel (At least Claire did). We had heard that Parisians don’t speak English and are annoyed when you do—and we were ready to give it an honest try. Upon arriving at the train station, or “gare” if you will, we were immediately thrown off guard when we heard, “Two?” We desperately searched our memories trying to remember a “tou” or “tu” or “teau” . . . Finally (After the man was positive we were a little slow), we conceded, “Yes, please.”

We hadn’t given up, though (At least Claire hadn’t). It was the hottest day I think I’ve ever experienced, and, despite my distaste for anything with laces, I had only a pair of adidas sneakers and no sandals. We stopped in a little shoe store and expected to find a lot of semi-fluent English speakers and found none. I gave up instantly, scanning the store for a pen or pencil to write down my shoe size. Claire, on the other hand, nodded her head to every word the sales person said. The woman helping us eventually gave up on me and spoke directly to Claire. While I was trying to write numbers and point, the woman just rolled her eyes and proceeded to tell Claire what I’m sure was very useful information—had Claire understood French. I wrote down my shoe size and pointed to the sandals I wanted, but the woman took Claire by the hand and escorted her outside. I watched as the sales person pointed  at shoes in the front window, and explained everything I needed to know—expecting Claire to translate for her non-linguistic husband.

By this time, Claire was convinced she understood French. She walked in, sat down next to me, pointed to the sandals I was interested in, and said, “She says that these sandals are only available in half sizes.” She said it with such confidence, I was puzzled. First, how did Claire understand after only studying French for a couple hours on a train. Second, are any European shoes available in half sizes? I sought clarification: “Claire, they are on the European system. They don’t have half sizes.” I said it more as a question, hoping for a re-interpretation. Maybe half sizes meant the lower half of the size chart and that 45 was too high.At that point, Claire gave up all pretenses, gave me a look and said, “Well, then I have no idea what she said.”

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