I read Gray Cargill’s post The Village Idiot in Paris awhile ago and the whole time I thought, “That’s exactly what happened to ME! We’re both idiots!”
Okay, “idiot” isn’t a nice word. I prefer the word “fumbly.” It doesn’t even exist, but I fumbled my entire way through France, and therefore I was fumbly.
First of all, I have been learning French since I was seven years old. I never had the privilege of attending French Immersion like my townie friends, but it was always a core requirement in my education. I took a few classes in university and now have been studying it on my own (without much success). I can understand the language just fine sometimes – I had no problem reading an entire French novel or listening to MFM Pop Radio – but to actually engage in conversation? Disastrous.
I was headed to rural Brittany, where I’d be spending some time with my company’s engineering department. Everything was prearranged, so it was fairly easy to find my way from the airport to the Montparnasse train station. There were birds everywhere inside. The other travelers and I thought it was charming. I looked up to see a dead one in the rafters, being poked at by the other birds.
I hadn’t slept in over a day, but I was okay…or so I thought.
On the train, I shared a booth with an elderly lady who made a great show of saying good-bye to her grandkids. They kept climbing back onto the train, dog in tow, to hug and kiss her. I thought she must hate to leave them to return to wherever she was going. They even chased the damned train down the tracks. Anyway, there were two empty seats beside us. Across the aisle from us, sharing one of those single booths, were a mother and her teenage daughter. The daughter had her eyes clamped shut in pain, and her legs resting on the opposite seat.
The mother came over and started speaking to me in French. I apologized and said I didn’t understand. She then stumbled through English, pointing to the “Handicapped” sign around her daughter’s neck, asking if I would exchange seats so she could stretch out in mine. I nodded vigorously, and the lady returned to her seat. Her and her daughter stared at me, confused. When the train stopped, I stood up to swap…only to have two twin boys take the free seats at my booth.
In my idiocy, I’d forgotten how the transit system works: train stops, people get off, new people get on. I didn’t know what to say to the woman and her daughter, so I left it. If I had my time back, I’d apologize. Instead I sat there like a lump, hoping to transfer apologetic vibes to them telepathically.
Then, when I arrived in Lorient, I got completely lost. For once, I couldn’t read the signs, and nobody spoke English. I wandered around the tiny station in a daze, not a colleague in sight. Just when I was about to call it quits, I spotted a guy wearing a shirt with my company’s logo. He had showed up 60 minutes prior, when I was supposed to arrive, but I had wandered into the wrong corner of the station.
Back at my flat, I discovered I didn’t have an alarm clock. I didn’t bring my cell phone with me. I didn’t have much of anything, including Internet service. I spent most of the night starting awake every hour or less, watching my laptop’s clock. I spent my first day on the job entirely miserable, unable to sort through the sludge in my brain long enough to string together an intelligible sentence. I cried via Skype to the other writer back in St. John’s.
The rest of my trip turned into one big awkward mess, the kind I’m famous for. I gave the driver in Paris wrong directions to my hotel, accidentally kicked the broken leg of an extremely polite French lady, and then spent a night in total darkness in my hotel room because a fuse had blown and I did not know how to tell this to the staff.
My bathtub clogged. My dryer vibrated off the wall and into the middle of the kitchen. I drank sour cream, thinking it was fresh milk. I tried to explain to my French date what an owl was, being reduced to hooting obnoxiously in the middle of a bar. He wined and dined me and fed me a lie about kangaroo farms, and then I published a story about it.
There’s no moral to this story, I was a travel newbie. I still am, but I certainly wasn’t so plugged into the travel blogging scene. Just know that sometimes it’s okay to be an idiot, and sometimes it even leads to you getting published in a book. The end.