One of the most entertaining parts of travel comes from translation issues and/or differences in slang . . . or even the same or similar word having very different meanings. When looking on a site for phrases that would be the French equivalent of “Please let me know if you have any questions,” as it is often incorrect to assume that a direct translation would be the proper thing to use, one of the suggestions was “Dites-moi si vous avez encore mal et j’ajusterai la dose prescrite,” which, as the title of my blog indicates, means “Please let me know if you have any more pain and I’ll adjust your medication.” I’m guessing that this really isn’t appropriate in a business setting, but still found it hilarious to imagine sending it to someone, kind of like, “hey, if you still find this process painful, you should up your dose” . . . I’m sure our French employees were wondering why the crazy American lady was laughing hysterically.
It’s always been interesting to me that the French have such a bad reputation for being rude as I’ve always found them to be quite polite and helpful; however, I also know that they are proud of their language and culture, so I learned a few polite and important phrases in French before my first trip. The closest to rude that anyone has ever been was when I asked a police woman (on my 3rd trip over), “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (Do you speak English?) because I was tired and drawing a blank on how to ask where a restroom was and she replied, “A little,” and then, “Parlez-vous Français?” with eyebrows raised and a tone like, “well, do YOU speak French?” When I replied, “un petit peu” (a little bit), her sassy attitude was immediately gone and she very helpfully directed me to the nearest public restroom.
Bottom line: if you respect the culture, you will be treated much better. If you’re traveling to France, don’t expect them to speak English. Some do, but some haven’t studied it since school – I still have quite a bit of Spanish (which I studied for 5 years) because I’ve used it a lot in my travels, but I view expecting French people who studied English in school to understand me like I’d understand someone speaking to me in German (which I also studied in school, but have used very little since). Outside of the major cities, it is VERY likely that you will meet many people who truly do not speak English – they’re not pretending just to be rude. I actually met an Australian and English person who felt the French did speak English and just acted like they didn’t out of some pervasive cultural rudeness, which I have not found to be the case. If you try speaking in French and they DO speak English, they will generally switch to English if you’re struggling to understand. And they’re very appreciative that you even tried, especially if you attempted to get the proper pronunciation down. As an example, my whole first day in Europe this trip I was so jet lagged that I kept saying “Je parle anglais?” (I speak English?) instead of asking if THEY speak English, yet all I got was a little chuckle from one guy, nobody corrected me and they all answered as if I’d asked the right question.
Having said all of that, I have basically lived at work this week, but on the upside, I had 5 deliverables I could report back to the US . . . so, at least they know I’m not spending all of my time here drinking wine, eating cheese and playing on the internet! The majority of last week was gathering requirements from Belgium and organizing the work. This week has been gathering the requirements locally, then asking a lot of questions about how their information is gathered, stored, structured, reported, etc. It was a great opportunity to learn that they have some processes that sound superior to those used at other locations (and could be imported back to the US as a best practice), but others where there is an opportunity for us to help them improve their processes. There are also differences in how the French conduct business and even a set Chart of Accounts for *ALL* of France, but now that we own them, they have to keep US accounts and convert, which is easier said than done since the mandatory French accounting has MORE accounts than the US.
My excitement today was around discovering that tomatoes here also taste different and I find them decent – the below appetizer (entrée in French) was fantastic! My main dish was also decent – a steak that I asked for medium, which here was definitely more than medium. You seem to have rare (like barely cooked) or no pink as options, but it had great seasoning. The fries it came with were the best I’ve had in Europe so far, so all-in-all a win.
Since I will be exploring this weekend, I finally caved and cut open the mystery melon I’d bought at the Intermarché on Sunday as well. It turned out to be a smaller and sweeter cantaloupe basically.
Today, I will leave you with the tip that using the word “preservative” in France is a no-no as it means something ENTIRELY different (condom) in French. Fortunately, I didn’t learn this by using it but because another American had told the French they use lemon as a preservative. They quite nicely told her that they were certain that wasn’t true, but if she did, she shouldn’t! Tomorrow, I am taking an overnight train to the Mediterranean Coast, so I anticipate having more touristy stories and pictures over the weekend!