Paris, The Language

Posted on February 1, 2009


After checking into my room at the Vicq D’Azir (for which I used English) I went to a local brasserie, drawn in by the free wireless sign on the window. Inside, a large, unbelievably jovial man, who I presumed to be the owner, waited behind the bar, pouring drinks for himself and maybe three people who were clearly his friends. There were no other customers. Still overwhelmed by my surroundings, I somehow managed to draw a blank after “Parlez-vous,” and my new friend’s hand sat extended and unattended in front of me until he finished the question for me. He then loudly affirmed the answer to his own question and finally I realized that he wanted me to shake his hand. After all the warnings I’d read about Parisian rudeness I was pleasantly shocked. I ordered a beer and was referred, rather pointlessly, to the stooped, quiet man standing right next to him. I repeated my order and received my Leffe. “Nothing else?” the first man asked, “some cassoulet maybe?” I politely declined, but I imagine he appreciated my knowing what cassoulet was (thanks for all those dinners, Alex).

I sat alone and disappeared into the internet for awhile, calling up every possible webpage with information on hip places in paris and sipping my beer, and somewhere during this process my high school French returned from atrophy. When some kind of commotion drew everyone to the windows I found myself, almost accidentally, asking about it in French. Mr. Tof answered me without pause, as if he’d forgotten my entrance, and though I had no idea what the fuck he said, I felt immensely satisfied by this interaction. I decided to go for another and requested to pay in French as well. The owner apparently shared my excitement about this and he brought me a complimentary shot of some anise liqueur with my check, as well as anticipating my method of payment and bringing the perfect change. This was so wonderfully pleasurable for the both of us, in the way that sometimes commercial interactions can be, with their finite and practical expectations, that as he backed away with his smile practically overflowing into laughter he slammed into his smaller counterpart, smashing two empty glasses on the floor. We were all mortified. I quickly packed up and made sure to shake his hand again on the way out, to reestablish the good vibes. I think it worked.

After careening drunkenly around my room in a bout of sudden travel-elation, I strolled to a nearby Krishna restaurant I’d read about, where the motherly Indian owner watched as I ate and immediately approached to offer me more of each dish that I finished. Such kindness in the city of lights.

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