one of the few things i don’t like about traveling is the knowledge that sometime (or many times) during the journey, i will look like a complete idiot.  it’s inevitable and i have to accept it, but man, i hate making an ass of myself.  this is why i try to stumble along in french rather than demanding immediately that everyone around me speak english – if they take pity on me and switch to anglais (whether because they really don’t understand me, or because they’re laughing too hard – i recommend reading david sedaris’ story ‘me talk pretty one day’), at least i tried.

i have been missing the pebbles in paris, for many reasons.  (primarily, of course, because i liiiiiiike him.)  it would be great to ooh and ahh at the impressive buildings together, to hold hands along the seine, to marvel at little strange things, like the woman in a business suit carrying her pet ferret in her handbag.  he has also been to paris before, so his local knowledge would be handy.  but the time i really miss him most is at meals.  eating alone is never particularly nice, although the true excellence of the food here helps.  but the whole eating process is probably the one regular daily event that causes me the most anxiety – will i inadvertently order snails?  (i tried to make sure before arriving that i could recognize the words for things i definitely didn’t want to eat, but it’s alarming how often completely unheralded ingredients turn up in what i order.)  will the waitstaff understand me and/or (please no) ask me complicated questions about what i ordered?  will i inadvertently perform some heinous breach of table etiquette?  i have taken to ordering take-away food and eating outside, partly because the weather is surprisingly nice and partly to minimize contact with the sometimes kindly, sometimes snidely onlooking staff and fellow customers.

one thing that eases the sting of mealtime idiocy is the knowledge that the encounters are brief (even when dining in), and that your faux pas will likely be forgotten shortly afterward.  unless you do something really memorable, and then you might get laughed about over someone else’s dinner table later.  but you never see them again, so it’s ok.

well, yesterday i packed a goodly amount of incompetence into one such brief encounter.  first i ordered from the blackboard menu, which presented its own challenge, since the sandwiches didn’t have names.  i tried le deuxieme sandwich traditional, s'il vous plaît (‘the second traditional sandwich, please’ since the heading was sandwich traditional), then began reading the ingredients off when the guy turned around to look at the menu.  he turned back, shook his head, said something and pointed to the other end of the bar, where a few deli sandwiches were left in the glass case.  so i headed that way and picked out one labelled mozzarella & tomato (discovering later that smoked chicken had also mysteriously been included), and headed back to the register with it.  the price on the label was listed as €5.90, so i had exact change ready and was even waiting to hear cinq euro, quatre-vingts-dix (and please don’t get me started on french numbers, because who thought ‘four twenties plus ten’ was an efficient way to say ‘ninety’?!?) but by this time the guy was speaking english to me, albeit quite softly in a noisy room.  so i didn’t quite catch what he said, but dutifully handed over my €5 note and about fifteen coins totalling €0.90, including a bunch of one and two-cent pieces.  he looked at me somewhat askance as he counted them meaningfully, one by one, into the register, so i smiled apologetically for handing over all my shrapnel. 

then he pulled out four twenty-cent pieces and gave them back to me, along with a receipt for €5.10.

i fled.

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