The other day, I called a hotel in Paris. Now, I studied French in high school. Actually, “studied” might be a generous term for what I did. I coasted. I got away with reading and writing it OK but speaking it barely. I still remember how to say, “I would like…”, “I am…”, “Open [or close] the window” and the oh-so-important “Close your mouth.”
I did not want to have to call the hotel. I didn’t even want to stay in this hotel. I wanted to stay where I always stay, the place with the kitchen, the place that I could book online, no speaking any language to anybody, but that place had renovated and priced itself right out of my range so I was stuck with this hotel that does not do online booking. They had responded to my first email and had requested I fill out a form that included my credit card details, which I dutifully did. And got no response. I was left with no choice.
The conversation went something like this:
“Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?”
“I am calling about an email I sent the other day to make a reservation.”
“Sì. I mean, oui. Yes.”
“Allors. Ok. When you ahrive?”
“14 XXXXX. We leave 19 XXXXX. Five nights.
“Five nights? Four nights. You ahrive quatorze, you leave dix-huit….”
“No, no. Five nights. Arrive quatorze. Leave dix-neuf.”
“Ok. Ok. Your phone numbair?’
“Wair ahr you calleeng from?”
“Ah, Italia. Thirty-nine. Zat is Germany, oui?”
“No, it is Italia.”
“Sì! Er, Oui.” Come si dice, “I may not be able to speak any language right now, but I am capable of knowing where I am and I am definitely NOT in Germany,” in Francese?
“OK. Your credeet caird?”
Turns out, they don’t accept the credit card that I’d sent them in my emailed form. Here’s hoping they don’t even open it, that they don’t go on a wild spending spree on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honorè.
“Allors. Allora. Ok. I have eet all. We zee you fourteen xxxxx. Merci! Au revoir...”
“Wait, wait, wait. There is a confirmation number?”
“You want confirmation? Allors. We weeell send un email. But now email is dead. You have in one day. Two day, maxeeemum.”
Me, a bit dubious, “Uh, OK. Merci!”*
“Merci! Au revoir! Arriverderci!
“Merci a vous! Au revoir! Ciao ciao!”
Lately, when trying to speak English, I often forget all rules of grammar. When trying to speak Italian, I often remember how something is said in French. And now, when confronted with French it seems I think, just a little bit, in Italian.
*I did get an email from them two days later. It reads, “Your reservation is correctly registered.” I’m choosing to interpret that as, “Your reservation for a double room for five nights, 14 xxxxx to 19 xxxxx, at a rate of €XX per night is confirmed.”