French Practice: Talking to Strangers


We’re in La Rochelle now, but before I leave the subject of Paris for a while, I wanted to tell you about a couple of the people we met. I’ve been shy about photographing people and have tended to comment mostly on the photos I’m sending you, but David has suggested that I’m leaving out a large part of the experience.

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Okay, I did not actually speak to any of these people, but Thursday after checking into our hotel, we wandered across the street to this park, the Jardin des Tuileries to enjoy le printemps (spring) and take a few photos. Since we’d been in France only about an hour, I was still in American mode and made eye contact (and probably even smiled) at an older gentleman walking toward me (neither is generally done in France). Then I started taking a few photographs. Next thing I knew he was right next to me giving me photography tips (in French). David had been about 20 feet away, but disappeared as soon as I had someone to talk to, because he’s VERY committed to me practicing my French and didn’t want to scare the man away. I didn’t understand everything this man was saying , but he was really very friendly–maybe a little lonely–and it was a great jump-start for my French conversation practice (and David was keeping an eye on us from a distance).  Bet monsieur would have let me take his photo, too! Must remember to ask.

Jardin des Tuileries looking toward the Louvre
Jardin des Tuileries looking toward the Louvre (more random people with whom I did not speak)

If you’ve ever been to Paris you’ve probably seen the classic “gold” ring scam attempted about every block. We don’t understand exactly how it works–and there may be several versions–but we do know enough to say no and keep moving. David, again insisting that I practice my French, had me ask the desk clerk at the hotel to explain, which he was apparently ecstatic to do.  Unfortunately my French was too weak to understand the complexities of the scam in his super-quick French, only catching phrases like, “C’est une ruse!” (which we had already figured out) and “pickpocket” (which even with a French accent is pretty clear). Still I loved that we’d made him so happy, and I must have nodded in all the right places because he didn’t once switch to English, and as a hotel clerk in Paris, he most certainly speaks English.

That’s just two of the six or eight conversations with strangers I had in Paris, aided and abetted by David, and I / we have had a few more here in La Rochelle. Stories for another day, perhaps. Meanwhile, you can picture us chatting, listening, nodding and even smiling, although we’re trying on the French style of waiting for a reason to smile. I can assure you there are plenty.

Outdoor Market, La Rochelle
Outdoor Market, La Rochelle  — Maybe I’ll talk to some of these people this weekend!

Here’s a jonquille for you, in case they’re not quite blooming yet where you are: