A while ago my dad told me a story about a business trip he took to Paris. Sitting solo in a booth, dictionary in hand, he ordered up a “jambon et fromage sandwich”. The waiter later returned with his sandwiches: 1 jambon et 1 fromage. My dad moved the cheese to the ham sandwich and voila! his order was fulfilled. He got the sense that the waiter had done it on purpose. Not being there, I gave him the benefit of the doubt but secretly thought he was a bit paranoid . . . until last night.
I left a dinner party after the metro had stopped running. I jumped into a taxi and gave the driver my street name rue du Couedic (Coo-ed-ick). Not quite as simple as our old address: rue de la Convention, but not crazy hard to pronounce like rue Montorgueil either. Knowing my accent is a bit thick, I spelled it three times for him (I messed up the first time – the “e” gets me every time!) and even offered him up a nice neat little box of where he could find it – c’est entre Denfert-Rochereau et Parc Montsouris, et Général Leclerc et René Coty.
He sighed too many times to count as he struggled to reach the map under his seat, repeating (between sighs) that la rue n’existe pas with me responding each time that yes, the rue did exist because I lived on it. I handed him a piece of paper on which the address was printed. Proof! Ahhh, he said. Rue du Couedic existe, mais vous avez dit rue de Couedic. Lie! But even if I had said de, close enough.
I asked the driver if he spoke another language and then lectured him on how if someone is trying it would be nice if he could at least try to make an effort to understand them. Cognac does wonders for language skills and courage. And cutting off your nose despite your face. Finding no way to make a ham and cheese sandwich of the situation, I told him to stop. I got out of the taxi just near the Seine and almost started crying. Mostly because I felt that I should given that the Seine is the perfect "scene" for a homesick American crossing Pont Neuf, contemplating her place in a foreign country as she struggles to fit in. But it was cold and I needed to get home to my warm bed and sweet husband (to remind me that French people really are nice!) so I whispered "cut", hailed the next taxi, and repeated my coordinates.
Worked like a charm. I didn’t need to wait to get home to be reminded after all.