I spent the last week in Lyon, France, for a work trip. To be honest, the most exciting part of it was that my hotel room was a lot quieter than my apartment (which is on 3 tram routes) and had airconditioning. “How was your conference?” people have asked me. “It was amazing,” I’ve replied. “I slept so well.”
In Lyon, I discovered that if you speak French to me, I will automatically reply with perfect Italian. Like, better, more fluent, Italian than I have ever used in Italy. I feel like I have discovered a brilliant language-learning strategy here. Pretty sure if I spent a month in France I could come back and write a novel in Italian.
The annoying thing is that I do have some French… At least, I studied French in highschool. To be fair, Australian highschool French is not much, and it was far and away my worst subject, but still. Well, and ok, by “worst subject”, I mean a language assistant once laughed at my accent. But still.
The thing is, in Italy if you’re not obviously fluent in Italian and you’re speaking to someone who does speak English, in my experience at least they’ll switch to English for you, without you asking. (Which is frustrating if you’re trying to practice!) Whereas in Lyon at least, people would often keep going in French, even with me. I went to a tea shop one afternoon and went through the stage of saying I wanted a black tea, and into the stage of indicating I quite liked Darjeeling tea even though I couldn’t remember any conjugations of plaisir, and was well into the oh my goodness when will we end this awful charade that the nonsense coming out of my mouth is French stage before I finally apologized for saying sì instead of oui for the 10th time because j’habite en Italie and the shop assistant finally offered to switch to English.
At least I got some French practice in.
Apart from the tea shop, my other French shopping experience was wine. In a foolishly generous mood I had texted a friend saying, “you want me to get you any food from France?”. I was thinking about chocolates or biscuits or a tin of pâté or something. The reply came back: “How about a bottle of wine, red or white, anything up to 20 euros and I’ll pay you back”.
I know nothing about French wine. (Actually, any wine.) So then I was asking every French person I know for wine recommendations, and not getting very far. Who knew I knew so many French beer drinkers? Eventually I triangulated what information I had and put myself at the mercy of the guy in the wine shop — who didn’t seem to understand when I said I was looking for a wine quite different to Piedmontese wines, possibly because he didn’t believe that Italian wine could really be called that.
But I wasn’t too worried, since I had a backup plan. A colleague had pointed out that the conference organizers were giving out a free bottle of wine to all attendees.
“So you can tell your friend you have a wine that was recommended by French people,” she said. “You can even say you saw other French people with this wine.”
“And I’ll say it cost me 19 euros,” I added. “Turn a profit.”
I really did buy a 20 euro bottle of wine, I swear.