Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Potty and the Pussycat

I was there—I was finally in Paris!  It was the morning of my first full day in France, and after the horrific travel adventures I'd had on the trip over, I was happy that we were venturing out on foot.

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.

 Le chat.

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 stepped inside and the door closed in front of me, encasing me in a windowless metal pod.  I'm not usually claustrophobic, but this did feel surprisingly confining.  I was just telling myself to relax, silly, when a female voice came through a hidden speaker, jabbering in rapid-fire, incomprehensible French.

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. 


Fortunately, the rest of the trip was mercifully disaster-free, and I considered it nothing less than a personal triumph when, on our last night there, we went to a super-fancy restaurant and the waiter actually responded to me in French when I asked where the bathrooms were!

(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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  1. Love it! What a great trip! I'm sure I would have screwed up the timing on the potty missle myself! :)

  2. This is great! I've always wanted to go to Paris myself. Love the photos, you look great. Thank you for sharing. I'm laughing - but for all the right reasons.

  3. This is a great post! I'm bew to your blog but will definitely be a regular. Yoou are so funny! BTW your pictures are awesome!

  4. Jenn... loved your trip.. as if I was right there with ya. I wish I could remember some of my french.. I would not have been any help that's for sure. Thanks for bringing me along tho. Blessings!

  5. Wow, so fun! new follower from the hop

  6. Love your Post. I have never traveled, anywhere but NYC and Florida from Puerto Rico where I was born. But then again I didn't even own a passport, and the other day I made the decision to finally request one for me and my girls. One of my best friends was getting married in France this month and I couldn't go for lack of passport, so that was pathetic. I got all excited reading about your trip and can't wait to go on a trip of my own. My cousin is a military wife and spent 3 years in Germany, I was so jealous that she got to go on weekend trips to France, Holland, Italy, you name it, it seems surreal. But now that our passports are on their way I hope we will be able to start traveling!

  7. Oh Jenn! Girl, you are hilarious! Looks like you had a great time in France, what was your favourite site to see? That's the one country that I just know I have to visit again because I think my daughter in particular would just fall in love with it too. Going to go link up at your hop now!

  8. Loved this post - and really think the picts of you and your husband are really good. Glad you had a good time in Paris.

  9. I'm just impressed that you went in to one of those toilets--I'm always too scared!

  10. LOVED this post - I just got back from Paris myself and I know what you mean about the photos - I must have taken about 100 horrible ones of myself in front of the Eiffel Town - Cringe. Our hotel had a cat too! They love them don't they, too cute! Great post! xx

  11. It's bad enough the French bring in their chiens, but chats too. I thought for sure you were going to get stuck in the porta-pod. They must take care of it after you leave. And brava for practicing your French. They just love to humiliate anyone, especially Americans, by answering in English. Glad you had fun.

  12. Great post. Makes me want to go on a romantic trip to Paris with my husband

  13. What a delightful story! I found you on Twitter & am now a new Linky Follower - please join me at Create With Joy, I'm hosting Friendship Friday this weekend!

    Would love to connect with you on G+ as well!

    Create With Joy

  14. How exiting for you and great pics! Oh I so want to go...been wanting to forever! :D
    I'm stopping by from the BHE blog hop! Hope you can take a minute to check out my blog! Have a great weekend! :)

  15. I couldn't stop reading your post. Who could not resist petting that kitty cat?

    Hopping by and following your FB and twitter. I am also inviting you to join my blog's giveaway, which prize pack contains the following: VIP coupon for a free 4-pack of Yoplait Trix yogurt for kids and Yoplait branded items including an insulated lunch tote, ice pack, backpack, folder, zippered pencil pouch, pencils, erasers, and pencil sharpener. This is the link to join (and where you can follow me too):

    Thanks and have a great day!

  16. Done there with the potty! Messed that up more than once. I am so glad you had a fantastic trip! I want to go so badly!

  17. I read this the other day from my cell phone and giggled hysterically. How wonderful that you were able to jet off to Paris for a romantic weekend get away with the hubby. The potty thing would have totally been my story too! :)


  18. Hi! Visiting you from the Getting To Know You hop. Thanks for joining. :D I look forward to my first visit to Paris. It will be happening soon. :) Great photos!

  19. I would love to be your real-life friend ;-) Life with you is NOT boring! I love people who have fun and see the humor in almost everything. YES, I would have been obsessed with the cat!

    They have those kind of public toilets in San Francisco. They creep me out!

  20. Cute little COW on those pants, eh?

    Hmmmmm.... Interesting.....


  21. I completely loved your Paris post! It brought back some great memories of my trip there, especially trying to get just the right pic with the tower, haha. I'm a new follower, would love a follow back as I start my blog!

  22. First you look great, and i can see you all had so much fun.. I can't stop lol at the funny symbols you saw..
    Thanks for sharing your travel experience with us, it was really interesting..

  23. That was funny! I loved your stories. That little bathroom reminds me of an airplane bathroom or something. My husband proposed to me in Paris in April 1999 (go ahead and gag), so I have lots of memories of that place, too! It was a surprise trip and my stomach hurt the whole way over. The first thing we did in Paris was go up the Eiffel Tower. I was crouched in the corner the whole way up the elevator with a horrible stomachache. Nice story, right? :) (Thanks for linking this up to #findingthefunny last week!)

  24. Nice photos! My dream is to go to Paris one day

    Visiting from Blog Hop Social
    Witha @

  25. Loved reading your post, love the humour. Paris is one of those places on our bucket list, so someday. I grew up in French Immersion but then when I was in high school went to South America for a year where I became fluent in Spanish. The last time we went to Quebec I was trying to translate for my husband and communicate in French, only problem was I kept asking or responding in Spanish instead of French. Oops. Found your blog through the blog hop.

  26. OH PARIS!!! I love the futuristic, ultra-clean bathrooms!!! Compared to China's holes in the ground with absolutely no privacy, Paris is BLISS!!!! We avoided the cattle herding lines at the Eiffel Tower by climbing to the second level. Really, as stair climbing goes, it was easy! :)

    I want to go back. Today. Tomorrow is fine. SOON!!!

  27. Love it!! Especially how the gentleman replied in English ... I've been there!!!

  28. Your 'amorous cat' reminds me of a time I was at a department store with my mom. We were talking in Ukrainian, and I mentioned how the air smelled like 'preservatives'. That was the day I learned that in Ukrainian 'preservativ' means 'condom', so that I was complaining about the store smelling like prophylactics.

  29. I always look forward to your posts. It's funny, because my husband could very easily see that I was reading something, yet he continued to tell me a story. I smiled and nodded my head every few seconds to make him think I was paying attention to him. Yep, didn't hear a damn word he said :)
    I was too into your story and wonderful photos.
    Ahhhh, a cat at the dinner table!! This crazy cat lady wouldn't have known what to do! How stinkin' awesome! I LOVE the photo of you smiling at him...he's just chilling in that basket! Man, I need to go there. Ahh, and the creme brulee looks amazing! You and your hubby are such a good looking couple.
    The photo of you at the the Louvre is a framer :)
    I was LOL @ your potty story...I'm pretty sure I'd be just like you!
    Wishing you a sweet night!!

  30. I heard a story about a woman supposedly getting stuck in one of those while it came on and sanitized. But I think it's urban legend. I am afraid to use them! But I also didn't know they were free. In 2003 you had to pay 2 euros to use them.

  31. This was quite hilarious..loved it!!

  32. That was entertaining! :) haha Sounds like you had fun, and I agree great stories to tell. :)

  33. Haha- I can relate to some of this, having been to paris a few years back! You always make me laugh! LOVE your blog! You should link this up, on my sat laughs this week!

  34. Great and hilarious photos!!!!

  35. What a great post. I love the potty pod story. I can see myself in their feeling like I am in the future. Glad your hubs and you enjoyed your dinner along with your new found kitty friend. = )


  36. "The cat—it is amorous and wants the stroking?"

    Hahahahhaaa! I giggled like a teenager when I read that.

    Great story!

  37. Sounds like you had a great time. I have never seen a cat in a restaurant before, but I would have pet it without even asking permission :)

    Stopping by from Divas Fashion Vault Blog Hop! (or maybe from VoiceBoks!)


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