French cuisine is famous worldwide, but I think I am missing the joy of it. Each time I go to a restaurant, I can barely decipher the French words on the menu. Waitresses come to my aid, but after many hand gestures, facial expressions and a mix of French and English words, all I end up with is a ham sandwich.
How, I wonder, am I going to create world-class multimedia journalism if I can’t get as far as a main dish?
As a result, I decided the best way to eat in France would be if I could see the food before I agree to eat it. This led me to the grocery store around the corner. I was looking for cottage cheese, but I couldn’t find it on the shelves. The cashier I found to help me didn’t speak much English, so she grabbed a colleague to interpret. Later, she even summoned a customer to assist us. Despite the determination of these three dedicated citizens, my best gesticulation and my trusty French phrase book, I exited the store 45 minutes later without cottage cheese.
After a few days and six hours of French lessons, I thought I would give the grocery store another try. I walked through the sliding doors and saw the same cashier who had previously helped me. I waved and smiled. She grimaced.
I shrugged it off and went to the cereal aisle downstairs. As I contemplated the selection, a lady next to me began speaking to me in French. I was pleased she thought I knew her language, but I had to reply, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.” She chatted with me in English about some food and strolled around the corner. I went back to viewing the cereal section, flipping through the pages of my phrase book as I shopped. Then she turned to me and asked, “Do you need a word?” I did, and she helped me find Honey Nut Cheerios.
A few minutes later, I was looking for some milk. The same lady came to my rescue, showing me her favorite kind. One thing led to another, and the next thing we knew we were discussing her family. This felt like progress. I had conversed with a local!
And now I have something to eat besides ham sandwiches.