So tonight I am in the gorgeous city of Québec, Québec. I haven’t been here since 1983, when I was here with my high school French class. It’s as beautiful as I remember it, with a unique blend of old and new. I love the province of Québec because it has it’s own culture and you definitely feel like you’re not in the States when you’re here.
One of the reasons I chose to come through Québec on the way home, which by the way added over three hours to my trip, is because I’m always looking to break out of my shell a little bit and by spending the night in a city that doesn’t have English as it’s predominant language I figured that I would be forced to be a little more outgoing.
I’ve startled a few people with my attempts at speaking French.
First of all, I don’t know why the New York State Education Department insists on teaching it’s students France French. Half the northern border of the Empire State is with a French speaking province, you’d think they’d teach us functional Québecois instead of France French. From what I understand (and I know Thom in Va. can chime in on this), the folks here speak a more proper dialect of French than the French do. It’s as different as American English versus British English and then some. No offense to Mlle. Hallinan (my high school French teacher), but the maitre’d does not care that Je m’appelle Jean-Patrick nor do they care that “Michel! Anne! Vouz-travaillez? Non, je regarde la télevision, pourquoi?” (We had to recite that last bit from our french book on enough occasions that it has stuck in my head to this day.)
I believe that when you’re visiting a foreign country, you should at least attempt to speak the native language before asking/demanding/jumping into your own tongue. I will make every possible attempt to get through a conversation completely in French, but I’ve been a little wary since that time I told the woman in Montréal that I was in heat (I meant to say it was hot). Now, when greeted with a cordial “Bonjour” at an establishment, I return the same and then try to muddle my way through some French before saying, “Je regrette, parlez-vous anglais?” There’s usually a sigh of relief when I get to this point. Said sigh is usually preceded by startled looks.
The “parlez-vous anglais?” bit worked perfectly at the front desk of the hotel, where the very attractive desk attendant went from perfect French to perfect English without so much as a bat of an eye. I think she was relieved that I wasn’t going to give her the “Michel! Anne!” speech nor was I going to quote Lady Marmalade.
Feeling quite cocky, I got myself gussied up and drove into Québec without a map or GPS at my side. I ended up in the gayborhood! Whoo hoo! I walked around a bit, hoping to find some little place that I could get une table pour un (cringing yet Thom?) and enjoy a little dinner. Unfortunately, that neighborhood seemed to be all about the sushi and/or Vietnamese food. As good as I was feeling avec mon francais, I wasn’t about to dive into some oriental version of the language nor was I going to try to bark out a number off a menu. So I did some more walking and enjoyed the crisp air before deciding I head back to the hotel.
Calorie starved and a little dizzy when all was said and done, I found a 24h McDonalds and decided to give it a shot. I walked up to the counter and did the Bonjour! response and my “Parlez-vous anglais?” to the young lady when she responded “Eh?” I asked if she spoke English again, this time a little slower when she responded with a meek “Non.”
So much for my cockiness. Time to muddle through another order and hope I don’t end up with McYak or something.
“Numero Huit.” I blame Earl for the Spanish I threw into the mix because I had just cleared my voicemail of him babbling in Spanish in response to my French message.
“Huit!” she said.
“Grande”, I asked, hoping to god that’s how I got to supersize.
She looked at me blankly, so I tried again. “Grande?” “Large?” “Super-Sized?” “Mondo Mondo?”
She made “large” motions with her hand and said “Trio”.
“Trio.” Who the hell cares if I was about to get three meals. (I’m thinking that the super sized meals here are called “Triples”, hence the “Trio”.)
When all was said and done I got what I intended and ended the transaction with a sweet merci beaucoup exchange between us. I like to think that the cashier and I had a moment.