Parlering in Paris

I spent 3 years learning French in school about 3 more independently on the Duolingo app. Upon completing all the lessons, I rewarded myself with a trip to Paris to test out my newfound skill.

chat-noirMy first task upon arriving at the CDG airport was calling my pre-arranged shuttle to the hotel. I was connected to a French-speaking operator. Despite several attempts I could not convey my need for a shuttle and it didn’t help that I was somehow transferred to an emergency line. I conceded to defeat at my first attempt and the woman at the information desk eventually helped me make the call.

After the long ordeal with the shuttle, I finally checked in to the hotel Eldorado. I was greeted by the calmest black cat in the lobby. The room was cozy to put it nicely. There was no TV, no clock radio, or any of the standard amenities I’ve come to expect at most US hotels. I was also not accustomed to the door knob in the middle of the door which is common here but really unpractical. The room did have free WI-FI but it was not fast enough to stream videos. I didn’t mind as I brought my own devices loaded with entertainment and this was just a place to shower and crash.

he no frills hotel room with the unusual center knob.

The first night out was to Le BB or Le Bouchon des Batignollesa, tapa style restaurant and bar specializing in cuisine from Southern France. I was eager to try my French but the servers immediately detected my Asian aura, in fact my partner swore he greeted me with “ni hao.” They were fully booked but accommodated us at the bar. Although the food was supposed to be southern, we had a diverse platter ranging from tajin chicken to fondue.

Tapa style dishes at Le BB.

The next morning we visited Le Cafe des Deux Moulins (the Cafe of the Two Mills) referring to the salt and pepper mills in their logo with the dancer in the middle. The cafe is situated in the heart of the burlesque district between the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill) and Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), which is now a boutique hotel and restaurant. We came here because this was where the film Amelie was shot. We actually ended up visiting many film locations on this trip. Here I successfully ordered breakfast, orange juice, and coffee but it wasn’t after several tiny cups of expresso at multiple cafés that I realized if you want a coffee with cream, you need to say “Je voudrais un café creme (I would like a cream coffee).”

Little cups of coffee at Deux Moulins and the Parisienne Breakfast with café creme and jus d’orange pressé at Le Chat Noir.

Amongst the film locations we came across were the Pont Bir-Haikem and the Pont Alexandre III, these are the two bridges in the films Inception and Midnight in Paris, respectively. We walked from one bridge to another in awe of the sights like the Arc de Triompe and the Eiffel Tower. We hummed Champ-Élyée as we walked up Champ-Élysée. The tune got stuck in our head and we got suckered into buying one of those touristy music box playing that song while we were browsing the shops near Sacre Cœur, I blamed the accordion player playing that tune on the church steps.

Bir-Haikem Pont-Alexandre-III
From Bir-Haikem to Pont Alexandre III.

Accordion player on the steps of Sacre Cœur.

At a Mariage Frere, a fancy tea place, I asked “Avez-vous un menu en Anglais (Do you have a menu in English)?” They did not so I ordered something not certain what it was. I did have to ask “Parlez-vous Anglais (Do you speak English)?” when their vocabulary was beyond me. The tea seem unimpressive and overpriced by my standards but the entrees and pastries were as ornate as they were deliciously decadent. The dishes are named after places. I ordered the Place de la Madeleine which is described as shrimp with cereal toast and eggplant confit. My partner had Montorgrueil which is toasted brioche and apple crisp with chestnut confit. For dessert, we had a cake-like creme brulee and fig tart.

Place de la MadeleineMontorgueil
Cakey Creme BruleeFig Tart
lockwise from top left: Madeleine, Montorgrueil, Cakey Creme Brulee, and a Fig Tart.

Fortunately, many restaurants offer menus in both languages which is helpful for someone learning French. I passed on a restaurant serving “onglet de bœuf” because I mistaken it for the word “ongle” which would have meant beef nails when was is actually hanger steak. Beef nails would have been strange even for me who tried everything French from escargot to beef tartare to duck confit.

Tartare-de-Bœuf Onglet de Bœuf
Tartare de Bœuf and Onglet de Bœuf, not to be confused with Ongle, from Le Vert Tulipe.

Escargot Confit-de-Canard
Escargot from Chez Ginette and Confit de Canard from Cafe Saint Honore.

Most case I was able to order with no problem. At Cafe Saint Honore, the waiter asked if I spoke French to which I replied “un peu, si vous parlez lentement (a little bit, if you speak slowly)” to which he responded quickly with a long slur of French phrases, jokingly of course.

Service in generally seems slow in most restaurant we visited. We accepted that it may be the pace of life here but one particular pho place was the worst. Food came to other people earlier even though we ordered first. While we patiently waited, we watched them screw up multiple orders. As soon as we were done we asked for “L’addition, s’il vous plaît (check please)”. They, of course, forgot all about it and we had to go up to them to pay.

Rue des Dames
Good service from Le BB on the left and awlful service from Pho 9 on the right.

The only time I had to ask for directions was when I ventured beyond Paris. I asked “Est le train pour Versailles ici (Is the train for Versailles here)?” to which a man responded “Do you speak English? It’d be easier” and proceed to explain if I was on the right platform. Failed again despite my best effort.

Versailles was a bit of a disappointment for me. The entrance is a glamorous gold gate which you don’t get to walk through but instead walk around it through the security checkpoint and a narrow corridor. The only fountain that was running during my visit was a little one outside of the entrance. Personally, I think there was more intrigue at Winchester mystery house.

The glamorous entrance that we were not allowed to walk through.

As far as museums go, we went to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay which covered the classical and neo-classical periods, respectively. We ran out of time for the modern museum but those trio would have been perfect for art buff. Personally, I didn’t really understand Museum art, particularly a lawn chair exhibit in the Louvre. I didn’t have to ask for any “billets” (tickets) at the museums because I purchased the citypass that includes Bus Bus tour, boat ride, subway ticket and most museums. More importantly, it let me in the shorter lines which proved priceless when trying to cramp a lot of attractions in on the final days.

Lawn-Chairs-Exhibit Musee-d'Orsaysiene
Lawnchairs at the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Siene Boat Ride.

While knowing a little bit of French was helpful, I don’t think I came across a single person in Paris that didn’t speak English. In most cases, the few phrases I mentioned was all I think most visitors need.

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