We were in the South of France,
spending a few days in the sun-splashed villas of Cannes, Antibes and St.
Tropez. Our nights, of course, were spent in some dumpy hotel far inland,
but the days were marvelous indeed.
But no matter where we were, the
French treated us as one of their own. We were not shunned, we were not
snubbed. Au contraire, we were embraced. We were Americans, but we were
My wife, you see, has many
talents, not the least of which is that she is fluent in French. Born in
Montreal and raised in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec,
she spoke English at home but went to French schools.
When I met her at the tender age
of 19, I was mightily impressed with her fluency in two languages. I
remember going home and telling my wise old father how my new love, whom
he had yet to meet, was a wizard at languages.
"Donít confuse proficiency
in two languages," he replied, barely looking up from his paper,
I made that point clear to my wife
many times over the next 30 years, but secretly I am still amazed and
impressed by anyone who is bi-lingual. And so, apparently, are the French.
Impostors are quickly discredited.
I took French in school, and didnít do well. Nevertheless, I
pathetically attempt to impress the French people with my second tongue.
It never flies. Perhaps the
problem is that if Iím not sure of a word, I make it up. Expensive is
"expensivement." Inexpensive is, naturally, "inexpensivement."
It sounds logical, but unfortunately, it isnít even close and I am met
with bewildered stares.
Even when I get it right, which is
seldom, the French respond with a barrage of words that I have zero chance
of deciphering. I can ask them to slow it down, but theyíd have to slow
it down to the point where I could look up every third word in the
dictionary. They donít like that.
So my wife becomes an invaluable
companion while traveling through the South of France. We can go anywhere,
far from tourist destinations, and communicate freely and happily with our
I beam with pride as I listen to
her order for me in a restaurant, or ask questions about the asparagus in
a grocery store. I coo with delight as I hear the melodic cadences of her
second language resonating from her little French-Canadian lips.
I donít care what my father
said. This woman is brilliant. She can speak two whole languages without
skipping a beat. And not only that, she hasnít really spoken much French
for the last 30 years, and she still remembers almost all the words. I canít
remember one-tenth of the French I learned, and I was in high school when
I learned it. We left the South of France and drove West, headed for the
Pyrennees and Spain. As we climbed into the majestic mountains along a
lonely back road, we stopped at little stores and cafes, where my wife
charmed all who listened. I stayed in the background, watching and
We crossed over the top of the
Pyrennees and below us was the little border town of St. Martin. We did a
little shopping (got a great price on some pantaloons, or whatever my wife
called pants) and then got back in the car and crossed the border into
After showing our passports to the
nice Spanish border guard, I pulled the car over to the side of the road
and reached across and opened the passenger door. My wife looked at me, a
"Get out," I said.
"I donít need you anymore."
She didnít think it was all that
funny. But she saw my point when we made our first stop in Spain, trying
to buy some fruit at a small grocery store.
Forgetting that she was no longer
in France, my wife blurted out some French, only to be met with blank
stares, a couple of shrugs, and total dismissal.
I watched with glee as my wife
began a series of hand gestures in a pathetic attempt to communicate with
"Welcome to my world," I
said, nodding happily.