Wednesday, August 03, 2005

French Frustration

When we moved to France thirty five or six years ago, we were met at Orly Airport by someone delivering a company car for us. I said thanks, but no thanks. After 24 hours with no real sleep escorting a very excited family of five to their strange new home, I wasn’t going to try driving a strange new car through Paris streets to an unfamiliar address. To get our car to the airport, the driver had driven it and his wife had followed in their personal car. So it was agreed that the driver and his wife would split our luggage and us between the two cars and take us to our hotel. That became one of those never to be forgotten events. You think New York drivers are bad?

Gradually we became quite attached to this brand new snappy Renault. But back at the airport we had been warned that this was a rental car (Hertz - even then and there). When a true company car became available, we would be assigned that and the Hertz car would be returned. Months later I was in a meeting when my secretary sidled into the room and whispered to me that now was the hour. She needed my car keys. Later that afternoon she gave me a different set of keys explaining that my car had been returned to Hertz and telling me where the new one was parked.

I worked quite late that day. No one was around when I left. I found the car. It was noticeably older than the one I had enjoyed. The next thing I noticed was that the gear shift was totally different. This led to the discovery that I couldn’t back the darn thing. Every time I tried, I got closer to the BIG stone wall the car was nosed into. When I had exhausted the space I could creep forward, I went looking for help. It was dark and spooky in the offices and the plant . I began to wonder if I would get home that night. I finally found a big guy sitting on a bench in front of the president’s office. He acted incommunicado or mute. I had to resort to pantomime, but I finally convinced him to come with me. Before we left, he stuck his head in the office and said (!) something to the president who laughed uproariously. About then I realized I was being teased again. The French think it is a great joke to pretend they don’t understand English when, in fact, they go home and listen to the news on BBC. At the car, the game continued. I put on a Oscar-worthy performance before he relented and showed me how to put the gears into reverse.

Next day I learned he was the president’s body guard. He was a tough, mean looking 6 foot, 9” brute. He had traveled the world as a top level race driver. His English was fine as I personally learned in later months.

I never did like that car and he also didn’t enhance my affection for the French.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

I wonder why Parisians do that. When I was visting Paris (a couple of decades ago) I remember a surly-looking man behind a deli-type counter waiting for me to place my order. I stumbled my way through a sandwich order in fractured French...and then he snottily asked in perfect English, "Do you want mayo on that?" Grrr. So rude. :)

P.S. How lucky--to get to LIVE in Paris! :)