I was also chomping at the bit to put my high school and college French classes to good use.
We decided to visit the Eiffel Tower first. It was a chilly day, and the walk over was invigorating. As we got close, my husband was practically sprinting to the monument, but I stopped him to remind him that we were supposed to take pictures of me wearing my friend Bob Butterbottom's yoga pants at the Eiffel Tower. (See the cute little cow on the pants? They're comfy too! You can buy them here!)
I'm an awful model, and picture after picture came out looking dreadful. I have no idea how to "pose," so after twenty minutes of painfully cheesy photos, I decided the following one was somewhat usable and stopped torturing us both with the project.
Can you imagine me on America's Next Top Model?
They'd laugh me off the show.
With the embarrassing photo shoot out of the way, we excitedly proceeded to the Tower! Surprisingly, it looked just like all the pictures I'd ever seen of it, except for one thing—none of the pictures ever showed the mobs of people waiting for hours to go in for a tour.
We spent quite a bit of time viewing it like this and feeling like cattle while we waited for the line to move.
At least it made for a neat photo.
By the time we were finally through the doors I was just dying to try out my French. Coincidentally I was also dying to pee, so I thought it would be a good time to test out my skills. I walked up to someone who looked official and politely said in smooth French, "Où est les toilettes, s'il vous plait?"
He answered, "Go up one level and they're on your right." I smiled. "Merci!" I said, a little too cheerfully. When I got to the bathroom it occurred to me that he had answered me in English. Oh well...apparently I had "tourist" written all over me, but I didn't care—I had successfully navigated my first real interaction with the natives.
After pottying, we took pictures of the view and milled about on the various levels, reading the informational plaques and occasionally wondering what some weird looking building in the distance was. The view was lovely.
I just wish I knew what I was looking at! There were so many buildings!
Lunchtime came, and I was excited to try out my language skills again. I easily ordered in French, and when my husband sat down next to me at the table I was feeling downright smug about my ability to communicate.
Of course, it's usually when I'm feeling confident that I make a gigantic ass out of myself and am reminded that I'm a blundering idiot. Therefore, I probably should have expected what was coming.
That evening we went out to a nice restaurant. I was translating the menu for my husband when I felt an odd—yet somewhat familiar—tickle on my neck. I turned around to discover a cat curled up in a little bed right behind my head.
My husband asked me if it was real. Judging by the amount of fuzz and dander lining the little basket and considering it had just brushed me with its tail, I was pretty sure it was a real living cat. It was also breathing, which would be a heck of a neat trick if it was stuffed.
I leaned in close to the snoozing animal, swelling with affection as I remembered my years of having cats as pets. My husband looked at me with annoyance. We were at a nice French restaurant, and instead of gazing lovingly into his eyes and cozying up, I was cooing over a ratty-looking fuzz ball.
"Hey honey, what are 'haricots verts'?" he asked.
"Do you think we're allowed to pet it?" I answered.
He rolled his eyes.
"I'm going to ask the waiter if I can pet the cat," I said decisively.
My hubby sighed. "Whatever," he said and went back to frowning over the menu.
I thought about the best way to ask. I wanted to say, "Is the cat friendly," but I couldn't remember the word for 'friendly.' The closest I could come was "amorous." I couldn't remember how to say "pet the cat," but I thought I knew how to say "stroke the cat."
I shouted "Excusez-moi!" as our waiter passed by. I smiled and stammered something that roughly translated to:
"The cat—it is amorous and wants the stroking?"
The waiter gave me a rather perplexed look, frowned, and said, "Euh, no, no, please no touch. Thank you." He shuffled off.
My husband looked at me like I had two heads.
"You asked if the cat was amorous?"
"I couldn't remember the word for 'friendly.'" I said defensively. "Besides, the guy knew what I meant."
"Yeah, and they're probably having a big laugh about you right now in the back," my husband countered. "What are 'haricots verts'?"
I'm sure I was beet red at this point. I felt like a complete ass, but there was no way I was going to let my husband think I didn't know what I was doing. I explained that haricots verts were green beans, and then I turned back to the kitty, who apparently sensed he was being talked about and wanted to be privy to the conversation. He had lifted his head and was squinting at me with disdain.
Of course, all cats sort of look at people with disdain, so I didn't take it personally.
It wasn't until my husband smacked my leg and said, "I'm over here!" that I stopped fussing over the cat and turned my attention back to dinner.
But seriously...a cat at the table? Who wouldn't be preoccupied?
I made it a point to be sure to interact with my husband more than the kitty. And to minimize my embarrassment, for the rest of the evening I limited my French to phrases I was sure I knew.
We actually had a lovely dinner, despite our furry distraction.
The next morning, I made my mind up to redeem myself from the previous evening's embarrassment. We were headed to the Louvre, and when we arrived, I made a show of picking up the French brochure instead of the English one. I made it a point to speak to employees in French (people were still answering me in English though), and I ordered in French in the cafeteria.
We posed for pictures in the courtyard of the Louvre.
Afterward, we went shopping, and I successfully talked to a couple of salespeople. Things were going remarkably smoothly. Walking through the streets of Paris, hand in hand with my sweetheart, I was just starting to feel confident in my French skills again.
It was right about then that we encountered a rather odd looking restroom out on the street.
It was a futuristic silver dome, and my husband quickly identified as an automatic toilet. Apparently it did everything from flushing for you to washing and sanitizing the entire inside before the next person used it.
I didn't need to go to the bathroom terribly badly, but we'd discovered that half the bathrooms in France are clogged, broken or filthy, and you can't be guaranteed toilet paper, a door, or even a seat in some cases. And you usually have to pay to use these sad facilities. Therefore, I decided I should take the opportunity to go while I had a sanitary—and free!—bathroom to use.
I was pretty psyched about a clean potty, even if it did have bizarre symbols on it.
I had no idea what she was saying, but I assumed it was something along the lines of, "Welcome to the crazy-ass high-tech Star Trek toilet. You see the potty; notice how clean it is. We French are awesome. Thank you."
I took that as my cue to sit and pee.
When I was done, I stood up and looked for the 'flush' button. I couldn't find one. I searched around the toilet and in the general vicinity, but there was no obvious 'flush' mechanism.
I remembered my husband saying that the whole thing was automated, so I thought perhaps it was waiting until I washed my hands to flush. So I walked over to the sink and pressed the button for water.
No water came out, but the French voice returned, urging me to do something I didn't understand. I cocked my head and tried to catch a word or two, but I was getting nothing. This toilet was clearly not meant for anyone not highly proficient in conversational French.
I pressed the 'water' button a few more times, and every time I did, the French voice cut off in the middle of its spiel and started the urgent message from the beginning. I could feel my heart racing as I began to panic. I couldn't get the water to turn on, I had no idea what was going wrong, and I was being verbally admonished by a scarily pleasant-sounding femme-bot.
As I whacked the 'water' button with increasing force, I vaguely wondered if the pod would go into "lock-down" mode if I continued. I pictured being stuck inside until the authorities came to arrest me for tampering with public facilities, and I decided to quit while I was ahead.
I turned around and punched the "open" button on the door. I was a little worried that it wouldn't open—since the toilet hadn't been flushed—but it immediately released me back into the street, where I grabbed my husband by the arm and hauled him quickly away.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I don't know. I couldn't figure out what to do. The water wouldn't turn on. I guess I panicked and just left."
"You just ran out?"
"Yep. Oh well..."
He laughed and gave me a squeeze. "Only you would find a way to mess up using an automatic bathroom!" He kissed the top of my head and took my hand.
What can I say? They didn't prepare us for the "potty pod" in high school French. Despite all my best efforts, I really was turning out to be a typical ignorant American.
I guess that's why, when it's something really important—like safety—the French don't mess around. They just post a really obvious sign, like this one I spotted in a shopping center.
(Of course, I didn't understand a word of what he said. I nodded and said "Merci," and then I ducked around the corner, went up to the greeting station and asked the person at the desk, "Um, where are your bathrooms?" But no matter; I consider it a victory that I was even spoken to in French in the first place.)
So all in all, I deem the trip a success. I may have had a terrible flight over and made an idiot out of myself in Paris, but at least I've got some great stories to tell.
Oh, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to name my next cat "Amorous."
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