Fumbling My Way Through France

I read Gray Cargill’s post The Village Idiot in Paris awhile ago and the whole time I thought, “That’s exactly what happened to ME! We’re both idiots!”

Okay, “idiot” isn’t a nice word. I prefer the word “fumbly.” It doesn’t even exist, but I fumbled my entire way through France, and therefore I was fumbly.

Ah, Paris! Je taime.

Ah, Paris! Je t'aime.

First of all, I have been learning French since I was seven years old. I never had the privilege of attending French Immersion like my townie friends, but it was always a core requirement in my education. I took a few classes in university and now have been studying it on my own (without much success). I can understand the language just fine sometimes – I had no problem reading an entire French novel or listening to MFM Pop Radio – but to actually engage in conversation? Disastrous.

I was headed to rural Brittany, where I’d be spending some time with my company’s engineering department. Everything was prearranged, so it was fairly easy to find my way from the airport to the Montparnasse train station. There were birds everywhere inside. The other travelers and I thought it was charming. I looked up to see a dead one in the rafters, being poked at by the other birds.

I hadn’t slept in over a day, but I was okay…or so I thought.

On the train, I shared a booth with an elderly lady who made a great show of saying good-bye to her grandkids. They kept climbing back onto the train, dog in tow, to hug and kiss her. I thought she must hate to leave them to return to wherever she was going. They even chased the damned train down the tracks. Anyway, there were two empty seats beside us. Across the aisle from us, sharing one of those single booths, were a mother and her teenage daughter. The daughter had her eyes clamped shut in pain, and her legs resting on the opposite seat.

The mother came over and started speaking to me in French. I apologized and said I didn’t understand. She then stumbled through English, pointing to the “Handicapped” sign around her daughter’s neck, asking if I would exchange seats so she could stretch out in mine. I nodded vigorously, and the lady returned to her seat. Her and her daughter stared at me, confused. When the train stopped, I stood up to swap…only to have two twin boys take the free seats at my booth.

In my idiocy, I’d forgotten how the transit system works: train stops, people get off, new people get on. I didn’t know what to say to the woman and her daughter, so I left it. If I had my time back, I’d apologize. Instead I sat there like a lump, hoping to transfer apologetic vibes to them telepathically.

Then, when I arrived in Lorient, I got completely lost. For once, I couldn’t read the signs, and nobody spoke English. I wandered around the tiny station in a daze, not a colleague in sight. Just when I was about to call it quits, I spotted a guy wearing a shirt with my company’s logo. He had showed up 60 minutes prior, when I was supposed to arrive, but I had wandered into the wrong corner of the station.

Haunted dryer.

Haunted dryer.

Back at my flat, I discovered I didn’t have an alarm clock. I didn’t bring my cell phone with me. I didn’t have much of anything, including Internet service. I spent most of the night starting awake every hour or less, watching my laptop’s clock. I spent my first day on the job entirely miserable, unable to sort through the sludge in my brain long enough to string together an intelligible sentence. I cried via Skype to the other writer back in St. John’s.

The rest of my trip turned into one big awkward mess, the kind I’m famous for. I gave the driver in Paris wrong directions to my hotel, accidentally kicked the broken leg of an extremely polite French lady, and then spent a night in total darkness in my hotel room because a fuse had blown and I did not know how to tell this to the staff.

My bathtub clogged. My dryer vibrated off the wall and into the middle of the kitchen. I drank sour cream, thinking it was fresh milk. I tried to explain to my French date what an owl was, being reduced to hooting obnoxiously in the middle of a bar. He wined and dined me and fed me a lie about kangaroo farms, and then I published a story about it.

There’s no moral to this story, I was a travel newbie. I still am, but I certainly wasn’t so plugged into the travel blogging scene. Just know that sometimes it’s okay to be an idiot, and sometimes it even leads to you getting published in a book. The end.

  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    Oh, Candice, I just want to give you a hug after reading this. It’s kind of reassuring though, isn’t it, to know we all make mistakes and feel foolish sometimes when we’re traveling?

  • http://www.carolineinthecityblog.com Caroline in the City

    It’s embarrassing at the time, but it’s stories like this that get you published! One day I want to do a Chelsea Handler style book of essays about travel mishaps, hookups and adventures.

  • http://teachergirlblogs.com Teacher Girl

    You know what I thought the whole time I was reading this? I wanna go to Europe so bad, I wouldn’t care if any of this stuff happened to me! It does sound awful though. Hey, at least it makes for a great story.

  • http://travelerahoy.com Alouise

    I never took French immersion but I did take regular French classes up until I graduated from High School. When I went to Paris 5 years later I couldn’t remember how to order a cup of tea. The waiter looked at me like I was crazy, but I too fumbled through and eventually got what I ordered. And I got directions from 2 drunk girls on how to get back to my hostel, and made it there. So I guess those French classes kinda paid off. I still know I’d be much further along if I lived in France, at least that’s what I think.

  • http://www.travelyourself.ca/1 Cailin

    Since I’m Canadian I to also learned french growing up – I started when I was 5 – I wish I spoke it fluently now but I am no where near being close. In grade 10 I took Spanish class and from that one year I feel like I know the equal amount of Spanish as I do French which is kind of sad.
    I went to Spain in August of 2009 and met a friendly spanish man who gave me permission to film my show from his roof top but he didnt speak a word of english but understood a bit of french – lets just say between me and two other people trying to talk to him it took about 3 hours to strike a deal with him – but boy did he give us a lot of great footage while I stand there like a dummy pretending like i know what he is talking about haha
    fumbly times often make the best stories :)

  • http://marathon.allfloridahotels.net/ Eliza Muller

    J’aime le Paris aussi! Harsh times often make the best stories and the best memories!

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca Ayngelina

    I remember once insisting that I did not want tomatoes on my pizza, much to the dismay of the Parisian waiter. It was a ten minute conversation but he finally conceded.

    I was served a pizza with no sauce!

    And that was after 9 years of French in school!

  • http://www.solofemaletraveler.com Sabina

    An idiot, no way! That kind of stuff happens to everyone. You just have a more talented way of telling funny stories about it :)

  • http://trustmaggie.wordpress.com/ maggie

    hahaha. I was in french immersion for a lot of my schooling, and I very much fumbled my way through France when I spent a summer there as a nanny. Oh, the stories I could tell…. But let’s just say, I came home from France able to speak less french than when I left ;P (mostly because all my confidence had been zapped.). But I had a ridiculously awesome time when I was wondering around by myself, failing to communicate… and having a 3 year old who was fluent in 3 languages be my translator… :S (thankfully, I knew enough polish to know when she was lying to her grandparents about my response to “do you want some cake?” ;P )

  • http://www.rebeccaandtheworld.com Rebecca

    Oh dear. I feel terrible for you but also want to laugh at all the mishaps. Well, it’s definitely these that make for interesting tales!!

  • http://www.recommendeddailydose.com Kate

    I wish my idiocy could land me a place in a book! Good for you!

  • http://rafaelrodrigu.es rafael rodrigues

    I am glad that its ok to be a freaking idiot. Too bad things didn’t go a bit more smoothly in france.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Oh, absolutely! And you know, despite all my fumbling, I never felt like giving up. People were incredibly kind the entire time. Kinda scratched out a lot of negative French stereotypes!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Oh man, me too! She’s my hero.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hehe, it really wasn’t that awful, though! I mean some of it was embarrassing and awkward, but I was never in any danger and I never felt HORRIFIED. I’d go back again in a heartbeat!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hahaha, it’s awful because the French we learn isn’t even France-French, it’s Canadian-French…which most French people absolutely find ridiculous. I remember my coworkers mocking the Quebecois accents. It was interesting.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Yep, this is true! Best way to do it though, get into the conversation right away, hahaha. I wish I had participated more while in Lorient. I could have really benefited from it…

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    True! I have a whole list of blunders from France and beyond…they’re the most funny. :)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    LOL! Too funny. Looks like the only way to do it is to LIVE in the language, huh?

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hehe, if these kinda things never happened to me, my life would be a whole lot duller…

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hahaha, trilingual 3 year old?! Amazing. That’s what we get for growing up in North America. Sigh.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Oh man, just laugh away! I don’t regret any of it at all. ;)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Hahaha, i’ll have to try it more often…

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    It’s okay, I had a blast anyway! Thanks for stopping by, Rafael.

  • http://www.everywhereist.com Geraldine

    Oh, Candice, this made me feel so much better about all the fumbly things I do. Really and truly. And the things I still do.

    Case in point: the other day, I hopped on a bus, and it took me roughly three miles away from where I needed to be. I saw it whoosh by my intended destination, and it kept going. And going. And going. The Energizer Bunny of bad decisions.

    But the best thing about it? It was in my hometown. I am fumbly, Candice darling, even at home. And you are right -as disastrous as it is, it makes for great stories.

  • http://www.museumchick.com/ Danee Gilmartin

    Oh, I love Brittany! IMO a better coast than the South of France. I’m sorry your trip was so fumbly , but they make the best stories. And so funny (but not funny for the lady) that you kicked her broken leg by mistake- seems like a 3 Stooges moment :)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    That sounds EXACTLY like something I’d do, and then I’d be too embarrassed to tell anyone else about it. Hahaha. We should probably never travel together.

    Jokes. That’d be AMAZING.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    I haven’t been to the south coast yet, so I can’t compare! Hehe, as for the broken leg…I was so horrified and apologetic, but the lady was incredibly, incredibly nice about it. I’ll never forget her, she seemed so eager to make me feel more comfortable.

  • http://www.kirstenalana.com/ Kirsten

    I have my first ever trip to France in March, I may fare no better than this. I’ll keep you posted! Till then, you’ve encouraged me to try harder at learning French :) !!!!!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com Candice

    Oh you’ll be fine, despite all the fumbling I did, everyone was exceptionally kind about it!