Thursday, July 2, 2009

Je ne parle pas français

(I do not speak French)

So one of the top questions we get asked about our trip was "did you have problems with the language barrier"? Yes and no. While I took some French in high school, I could read it better than speak or verbally comprehend it. We listened to some CDs in the car in French, but that's hardly real preparation, and it left Mr. Lush with zero ability to read. I was the best French resource of the Lush Travelling Duo, and I was really not that great.

My first question anywhere was "Parlez vous anglais?" (Do you speak English?) Often the answer was "yes" or "yes, a little". If he answer was yes, we got along fine with talking fairly slow and using the most literal words/translations we could think of. If the answer was "a little", we used the Lingo (electronic translator loaned to us by some good friends) a phrase book, and pointing to maps or menu items. It wasn't great, but it worked. As noted in my public transportation post we got around using public transportation, which most signs, instructions, announcements, etc are in French.

We put forth an effort when we could and were apologetic about not speaking the language which went a long way to keep things nice and civil and even to get people to go out of their way to help. We were polite and said hello, goodbye, thank you, just as you should. I will say, it was a LOT easier in Paris and Bordeaux/St. Emilion than in Burgundy. While "most" people spoke a decent amount of English in those areas, "most" spoke little to no English in Burgundy, even in Dijon and Beaune, somewhat larger towns in Burgundy.

So....would I say I have regrets about not speaking better French? Sure, because it would've made things easier. But is it required? Not really - but having some basic knowledge of what certain words mean does help - not only for public transportation, but to know if the check includes gratuity, for example. *Which, we always tipped extra anyway, just because we wanted to spread the word that "Hey, being nice to Americans pays". (literally) :)

I guess the bottom line is that the language barrier won't keep me away from a vacation, but I will probably spend a smidge more effort next time.


LucyinStLou said...

I'm kind of surprised more English wasn't spoken in Burgundy because I think of it as much of a wine "destination" as Bordeaux.

WineLush said...

It was much more "village-like". (Bordeaux itself is a decent size city, BTW.)
It was spoken in Burgundy, just not as often and by far less than in the other destinations in France and its really the only place we ran into many people who spoke less than 100 words English.