Once a week I've been taking the kids to a French bakery around the corner from my house. It's almost impossible to find an old school bakery anymore. Everything's a chain or it's crap. But the French bakery is the real deal. The owner is French. Like French-French. She closes the shop for the month of August so she can return to France. Like that French.
Hohh hohh hohh.
(That's my French laugh.)
Anyway, I take the kids to the bakery and they each get to pick out one thing. A cookie shaped like a cat. An éclair au chocolat. A tiny sweet shaped like a frog. Pain au chocolat. Whatever they want. I also get a loaf of bread (pain de mie).
I like ordering things in the French bakery because I studied French for 10 years in school, including college. I also spent a summer there during high school as an exchange student of sorts. I lived with a family who had a home in the Haute-Alpes, but they also had a summer home right on the sea in St. Tropez. (I know. Rough life, n'est-ce pas?). And an apartment in Paris. And a home in Nantes. I got to see a lot of France and spoke nothing but French the whole time I was there. I've returned to France once, about 15 years ago, and at that time I spent two weeks there with the same family. Other than that, I haven't practiced my French much.
But hot damn, I can order a pain au chocolat and a pain de mie like a Parisian, I swear.
Though I order everything correctly, I've never spoken French with the owner and she has never spoken it with me. So last week, I said, "Merci" after she rang me up.
Now in my fantasy life, I have imaginary conversations with French people in which my French flows smoothly and expertly. I say many charming and hilarious things. My accent is perfect. My command, excellent. Unfortunately I have only participated in fantasy French conversations for the last 15 years, so my memory of how good I was back then is how I assume my French skills still remain.
What happened in the French bakery last week was not the same as what happens in my imaginary conversations with French people. What followed my simple "Merci" was a litany of French words flown at me so fast my little Francophile brain spun around in le cranium.
I think I heard something about my children ("Les enfants") and I don't know what else happened after that. I sort of blacked out. I know that I smiled and nodded and said "Merci" again, as though she was complimenting my children. She may have been saying they were spoiled brats. Wait. That's not true. I know how to say that in French. But you get my point.
I'm assuming I say "Merci" like a fluent person. I mean, this lady was off and running with me on a high-speed highway of the French language. I'm sure she was disappointed when my eyes glazed over and I mumbled sorry little phrases like, "Merci. De rien. Au revoir et bon soir!"
After we left the French bakery and my French shame, we walked next door and got Maman a bottle of vin. No one spoke French at the liquor store. Tant pis. We got two bottles of chocolate milk and a bottle of red wine. I felt a little guilty. Like, here's this lady with two nice kids and their wholesome bottles of chocolate milk ... and here's mommy's booze to help drown her French sorrows. Though I suppose if I can't speak the language anymore, at least I can drink the wine.
A votre santé!