Running out of tissue while in a foreign country is exactly my sort of predicament.

I had been walking around the citadel all morning, and now I headed toward the peninsula where the naval memorial stood. I wondered if it would look like the beaches of Normandy, swelling green lumps between craters, beyond the smooth beach.

Like others with severe allergies, I carry tissue with me wherever I go, as if it were an EpiPen or, more accurately, a pacemaker, because it’s something I always, always need. As I sniffled my way down Rue Dauphiné, I searched for a drugstore, or at the very least, a café.

A burgundy awning poked out up ahead, sheltering the rattan chairs that overlooked the small bay. Gauguin had certainly sat in one of those chairs; maybe Monet as well. That was the magic of France. History hung out on street corners shouting stories, and possibility nudged at its elbow, whispering in its ear.

The place was pretty much empty. A woman with two small girls sat near the window, and a nondescript man read the paper, an empty thimble of espresso at his elbow. I signaled the waitress.

“Avez-vous un…uh…un”

I knew this word. I knew this word. I had been speaking French for a solid month, and I knew this word. Dammit.

“Excusez-moi,” I reddened, “j’ai oublié…uh…oh, what is it? Un papier pour les mains…”

A paper for your hands. Stupide Américaine.

The graying, portly gentleman to my left interrupted my performance, which now included pantomiming and earnest looks while the waitress tried (and failed) to guess.

“Excuse me, but what are you trying to ask for?” He spoke with a standard English accent, and he had what I imagined to be a standard English face. Utterly forgettable.

“Oh, you speak English!” I said. I hadn’t spoken or heard anyone speak English in about a week, since the Loire Valley tourists who, oddly enough, hailed from my hometown.

“This is so embarrassing; I forgot the word for ‘napkin.'”

“‘Serviette,” he provided, smiling all the way to his eyes.

Serviette! I knew that word.

I turned back to the waitress and asked for a napkin, just as the gentleman handed me a stack. “Here, take some of mine, I won’t use all these.”

“Thank you,” I said, and held them up to the waitress, who smiled and went back to work.

I turned back to the man. “You know, I knew that word, but for a minute there I totally went blank.”

“Your accent is very good, though. You’re American?” he asked.

“Yes. From Los Angeles. And you’re English.” I said.

“Yes, popped over here on holiday. It’s not very far from where I am. Just a quick ride on the ferry. But it’s quite a trip for you?”

“Thirteen-hour plane ride.” The words felt sticky on my tongue, like I’d eaten a mouthful of Rolos.

“Wow, quite a trip. How long are you staying?”

“Well, I’ve been in the country for almost a month now, and tomorrow I go back to Paris and fly home the next day.”

“And how do you like it here?”

“I love it. I don’t want to leave.” I set down my bag. “You know, it feels so weird to speak English again. I haven’t spoken it much since I’ve been here.”

“How strange that must be! Well, have a seat!” He invited, waving a hand across the table. “Everyone tells me I’m a talker, so you’ve found the right bloke.”

I sat down. We talked, and I didn’t forget any more words.

St Malo Beach


Comments

Une Serviette and Other Words — 26 Comments

  1. How you mentioned you hadn’t spoken english since the tourists you ran into, from your hometown. Isn’t that weird how that happens? That always seems to happen to me. I went to Paris and sat next to some family and the kid was wearing a t-shirt that said my city and state. What?! I tried like heck to tell them but my french is limited to maybe a few sorry sentences. They looked at me like I was crazy. lol

    Loved this, I felt like I was right there with ya!
    Jen Brunett recently posted…How Hall & Oates Cured My AnxietyMy Profile

  2. I often struggle to get an english word from my brain to my tongue, never mind another language. I am sadly untraveled – not even so far as Quebec which is really only a ten hour drive away with family along the way that I could stop and visit. Someday maybe.
    Vanessa D. recently posted…Dear Mr. TrudeauMy Profile

  3. “Un papier pour les mains…”

    hilarious! i totally know what you mean… i often find myself in the same predicament, dancing around the words i don’t know by using the most ridiculous descriptions and receiving bewildered confused looks.

    and i love the loire river valley! its so beautiful there.
    soapie recently posted…If You Only Do What You LikeMy Profile

  4. Lovely as always. You’re slowly changing the way I see France. I must admit, someday, I will probably go there, and probably like it, and I’m okay with that, now that I’m in my mid-30s.

    Sorry I’ve been gone so long. Life got in the way of my writing and visiting others. I’m trying to not let that happen again.
    Chris Plumb recently posted…Getting the Pink Slip Again: A Short Story.My Profile

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