The Trials of a Monolinguist

Dear 7th Grade French Teacher,

You may not remember me; I took your class for one quarter back in nineteen-ninety-whatever.  I was the girl who wheedled you into letting me bring crepes to class for extra credit so I wouldn't have such a "bad" grade.  I know you probably chuckled at what I considered a bad grade, but it really was the lowest I had ever gotten (and still have yet to get) in my life.

At the time, I blamed you as unfair and mean.  I insisted on the accuracy of my pronunciation and my mad skillz at playing Battleship in French.

But as I wandered the streets of Paris this week, I had a revelation: I actually am quite terrible at French.

Most of my conversations when something like this:

Me: Um, donde esta le Tower de Eifel?
My Victim:  Something very friendly in very fast French.
Me:  Ooooo, um, yea.  Forgive me as I ask you this, but...English?  I hope?
My Victim: Shaking head slowly while giving directions in perfect English.

I tried so hard not to confirm every stereotype of monolinguistic Americans, but things did not go so well when my poor victims knew less English than I did French.  I spent an excruciatingly long five minute trying to act out the concept of tap water to a pleasant young waiter.  Apparently, I am not a very good actor, as my pantomime of turning on a facet, filing a glass, and taking a sip was met with baffled silence.  His solution was to bring no water at all, presumably because he wanted to see if I would once again act out this sequence.

For the two days I was going to be in Paris I would have been just fine with only limited language skills if it weren't for one magazine ad that left me racked with curiosity.  On the table in the hotel room was a tourist magazine with info about various activities, one of which was visiting the Hustler Club for "women, women, women" (a word I knew from the door of the "toilets").

I had little desire to go to the club itself, but I just HAD to know how you pay a young woman for her services.  One and two Euros come in coin form, you see, which would cause problems for tucking them into various straps of tiny bits of clothing.  Did Europeans always tip with fives, tens and twenties?  Or did the women carry purses or place change jars strategically around the stage?  I wasn't about to go to the club myself and couldn't for the life of me come up with a charades version of "how do you tip a dancer at the Hustler Club?"

All of this is to say that my French was never good, even in 7th grade, and that "je detest le zoo" and "bonjour mon petit chu-chu" will only get me just so far in life.  I totally deserved that "bad" grade.

Sincere apologies,

JoAnna