We were staying in the village of Belveze du Razes in the Aude. Mike The Brit and his wife lived in Cailhau, the next village over, where he had his home custom built from the ground up. This, I knew, was no mean feat because he had to deal with a host of contractors, which can be daunting under any circumstances; doing so when you aren’t fluent in the language can be a nightmare. I told him I was impressed.
“Aw, mate,” said Mike, “It’s not that hard, really. You just rub your chin and mutter a bit. And frown. Yeah, frown.That goes a long way”.
I thought that was pretty funny. Funny guy, that Mike The Brit.
Not long after we were on a road trip and ended up in the city of Albi, where I parked in a pay-to-park lot. We entered without incident, but in order to get out we needed to pay one euro for a ticket, a sort of Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card that wasn’t free. Armed with my euro I went to the ticket machine and inserted the coin.
For a few moments nothing happened. Then the machine spat my euro back at me.
I looked closely at the machine, but found no message, no indication of why it was rejected, so I inserted it again. Again, it was spat out. As I retrieved the coin I looked behind me and there was another guy standing there, watching. Being a little flustered and not speaking French very well, all I could do was exchange glances with him, then look at the coin in my hand, which he did too.
He muttered something and frowned, so I did too.
I inserted the coin again, it spat back out, I looked at him, he looked at me, he rubbed his chin and muttered. I did too, then I frowned and so did he.
About this time a gendarme showed up. Apparently having watched us, he looked at the coin in my hand, then looked at me, then the other guy, and he rubbed his chin. So I did too, and the other guy frowned and muttered something.
So far not a word had been spoken, when the gendarme took the coin from me, gave it a rub for good luck and inserted in the machine, which promptly spat it back into his hand.
The gendarme looked at the coin, rubbed his chin, frowned and muttered something, then looked at me, so I frowned and muttered back at him. I could hear the guy behind me muttering and I assume he was rubbing his chin too.
When I looked back I could see that now there were three people standing there, all of us looking at the gendarme and the coin, all of us frowning and muttering.
The cop reached into his pocket, pulled out another euro and slipped it into the machine, which immediately printed and spat out a ticket that he held triumphantly aloft and handed to me after pocketing the recalcitrant euro. All the while the crowd around me muttered in approval and nodded to each other. No one had thus far said a single intelligible word, but I had my ticket and was free to leave the lot.
Heading back to the car where sat Beloved Wife, unaware of the drama that had just unfolded, I couldn’t resist. Waving the ticket overhead, I called out to her with far greater excitement than warranted, “Honey! Honey! Karen, look, look, I’m bi-lingual!”
All she did was frown and mutter something. She’s more fluent in French than me.