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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.