On Speaking French
An American in France, and especially Paris, is advised to make an effort to speak the language, lest one find themselves under the harsh glare of the French citizen, hardened against understanding your simple pleas for a meal that isn't tripe. An earnest smile can not bridge this divide, as the French regard a smile as suspect of lunacy or idiocy, both of which - in the French mind - the American is prone.
But most cannot master those tortured vowels with an American jaw. Even worse, those who have suffered long years listening to recordings of the squealing voice of the female French speaker and the Barry White tones of the male, have become somewhat pickled into the false sense that all French woman's registers are of angelic sopranos, and all French men speak the deepest base. This is not the case, even in Paris; the most beautiful city in the world that never, ever changes, despite the best efforts of the Pompidou.
I wish to share a special skill I have developed to solve this conundrum. First, one must master the smallest bit of French comprehension in hearing, for no other reason that to avoid being run down by their curiously quiet trains and ambulances. The next is to learn to read the simplest menu French, as one must by all means, however adventurous one is at home, avoid ordering the tripe. I once made the mistake of asking an indulgent waiter what the Tripe a L'Andulisian was like, and was told, in the cold formality of all French waiters, that "The French love it." I misunderstood the emphasis, thinking he meant, "The French love it," and thus you will too, when in fact he meant "The French love it," but you will throw-up.
Master these two small skills, but restrain oneself from speaking the tongue, which is a foolhardy endeavor prone to failure, even for the Canadians of Quebec. Instead, substitute a special pidgin of sincere effort and utter defeat. For example, say, "Je parle français très mal à la tête” in exaggerated and self-deprecating tones, to indicate that "I speak French very badly," by saying "I speak French with a very bad headache.” The Parisian will answer in flawless English, and thus signify to you both their perfect mastery of all things and your utter failure, and thus leaves them disdainfully self-satisfied, the most natural state for a Parisian.
Employing this strategy makes the French coyly pliant to your need to find a bathroom that won't fold itself up to clean itself while you are still inside, or to a locate Metro stop where one doesn't have to walk up thirty-five floors of the most picturesque tiled spiral staircase you have ever cursed at in the ripest Anglo Saxonism one can muster.
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