An example of my French when I moved here

Since I’m going to tell you some stories about when I first moved to the French countryside, I need you to understand how basic (read…BAD) my French was when I got here. This is taken directly from my blog 5 years ago:


I went to the pharmacy this morning to pick up some baby supplies. In France almost everything except perfumed soap and cellulite cream is located behind the counter, so you have to ask the pharmacist to get everything for you. Which means that instead of gathering up what you need and mutely handing it to the cashier, you are actually forced to talk.

So I walk into the one pharmacy in our tiny town (1300 inhabitants) with Max in the baby carriage and my dog Ella on her leash, and wait in line until it is my turn.

I am speaking in French, but here is a direct English translation of the transaction:

Me: Bonjour, Monsieur.

Pharmacist: Bonjour, Madame.

Me: I would like one of those thingies that you put in the baby’s mouth so that it can suck.

Pharmacist: Pause of incomprehension. Is it a liquid?

Me: No, it is made out of plastic. It is for when the baby cries.

Pharmacist: Pulls out a pacifier.

Me: Oui Oui. Merci. And also, I would like one of those things that you put in the baby’s nose when he has a cold to pull out the … (I don’t know the words for “boogers” or “snot’)… stuff that is inside the nose.

Pharmacist: Confused look.

Me: It looks like a ball on one end and is made of … (don’t know the word for “rubber”)… plastic. And you stick it in the nose and squeeze. Seeing that he doesn’t understand, I mime a squeezing-under-the-nose motion, much to the amusement of the people in line behind me.

Pharmacist, as serious as the grave: Pulls out a weird contraption that has tubes and syringe-looking appendages.

Me: No, that’s not it. It’s round on one end and…(don’t know the word for “pointy”)… little on the other end.

Pharmacist: Confused look.

Me: Give me a pen and I will draw it for you. I draw a nasal aspirator.

Pharmacist: Ahh! He pulls out a nasal aspirator. In France we use this for… (and I didn’t understand the rest – something like “putting medicine in the ear”.)

The pharmacist pulls out the tube-and-syringe contraption that he showed me before. “This is what we use to clean the baby’s nose.” He then demonstrates sticking one end in the baby’s nose, and putting the other end of the tube in your mouth so that you are actually SUCKING THE SNOT OUT OF THE BABY’S NOSE.

Me: Make horrified face.

Pharmacist, shaking head miserably: You don’t actually get the mucous in your mouth. See, it is trapped in this chamber here far away from the mouthpiece.

Other customers behind me: Trying to stifle the giggling that has been going on since my nasal charades.

Me: Desperately pulling on Ella’s leash, since she has her nose stuck deep into the back-end of a woman who is bending over, which the woman will realize as soon as she stands up. Max starts screaming. Panicking, I say, OK, I’ll take that (point to the pacifier) and this one (point to the snot-sucker).

I pay quickly and beat a hasty retreat, amid glares (from the dog-groped woman) and laughs (from everyone else), promising myself never to return without a list that has been meticulously translated ahead of time.

11 Comments to An example of my French when I moved here

  1. by Angela Brown - On September 22, 2011

    Priceless! Hilarious, now some time later, and priceless.

    Thank you so much for this much needed giggle.

  2. by Lori Ann - On September 22, 2011

    You are on par with David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. Bravo. More!

  3. by Nicole Cardenas - On September 22, 2011

    Thank you for a good laugh, just what needed before continuing on my essay.Die For Me made me wanting to learn French and visit all the museums. Hope I get a chance to in the future, thankyou for an awesoming book :)

  4. by Nicole Cardenas - On September 22, 2011


  5. by fuentes lucie - On September 22, 2011

    Good Evening Amy,
    I’ve just read your post and as a Parisian your story makes me smile.
    And as a foreigner in your native country, it reminds me of the first time I have to chitchat with an american in an elevator. How can you respond to “Have a good one ?” The first time, I was lost…A good one what ? I didn’t know how to respond even if I’ve learn English at school!

    I remember too, the first time I’ve tried to crack a joke with the concierge of my condo…Never, never try to translate from French to English what you think is a “bon mot”. The poor man was just staring at me for 5 minutes as I try to make him understand why it was so funny…At the end, I was mortified because he has never laugh !

    By the way, I’ve enjoy your book very much and your knowledge of Paris is awesome…much better than mine and I was born there. Can’t wait for the next one !

  6. by June - On September 23, 2011

    I think the stuff you did manage to say was pretty good. At least you had a rudimentary knowledge of the language. I have no clue about French besides “oui”! I thoroughly enjoyed this post…lol…

  7. by amy - On September 23, 2011

    Oh Lucie, I feel your pain. I had so many jokes fall flat in the beginning, that I still hesitate to make them now. But it’s the BIGGEST triumph when I actually make people laugh in French.

    And I’m so glad that you approve of my portrayal of Paris!

    June – ha! “Nasal aspirator” is not something you learn in French 1!

  8. by Heather@NightlyReading - On September 23, 2011

    Thank you for sharing this story with us. Of course, it literally had me in stitches which left my co-workers looking at me like I was insane. Then, I had to explain the story to them. I guess you had to read it on your own because they were not as amused as I was.

    Anyway! Thanks again and I look forward to more stories. I have always dreamed of what it would be like to move to another country, in my dreams, it’s Tuscany.

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