The International Writers Magazine: First Time in Paris
Backpack strapped on and duffle bag slung across my body, I trekked from my gate inside of Orly to the shuttle bus.
It was time to attempt my first live endeavor with the French language. I stepped onto the bus— “Excusez-moi, to Chevillé?
I sat down against the window, hoping my broken French was close enough. Not too long into the ride I noticed street signs that read “Chevillé." My French must have been correct.
I unloaded myself from the bus, following my directions to go into the pâtisserie and ask for John Pierre. Another test of my French.
“Bonjour. Um, John Pierre?”
“Oui oui! Vous devez être le cousin de Ally.”
I nodded, giving him a timid smile. The American accent and hesitation in my voice, or maybe it was the giant duffle bag, revealed that I was Ally’s cousin. Then, in fast French, he yelled up the back stairs.
Ally came stumbling down the stairs, “You made it!”
“I can’t believe I did. I thought I would still be stuck at Orly.” We both laughed. I knew my French was less than mediocre, but I didn’t mind. I was ready to experience my first night in the City of Lights.
“JP is excited to take you out to an authentic French dinner. All day he asked what kind of food you like. We’re going to his sister’s restaurant in the 6th arrondissement.”
“Trés mangnifique.” I loved pretending to know French and what an arrondissement was.
On the drive into Paris from Chevillé, John Pierre pointed out every sight we passed. Ally laughed at me as I simply responded with “oui oui” each time he glanced back to see if I was understanding the tour.
||Even though I didn’t know every monument or street we drove by, I could still decipher the high end shopes that lined the Champs-Élysées— Channel, Zara, Christian Dior. The avenue opened into a massive traffic circle that we sped around. In the center of that circle is the Arc de Triumph. John Pierre drove down a few more streets on the way to the restaurant, each lined with boulangeries, fromageries, pâtisseries.
Once inside the dimly lit restaurant, the hostess greeted each of us with a bisous. We sat at an old wooden table situated against one of the back walls. Wine and champagne bottles lined the tiny bar; the faint smell of cigarette smoke wafted in from the outdoor patio. Taking one of the menus, I begin to decipher it when suddenly—
“Bonne soirée John Pierre et les filles, bonne soirée!”
John Pierre answered the waiter. I barely understood him because, of course, he was speaking French.
While John Pierre and the waiter spoke, Ally told me about the restaurant. “JP took me here when I first got to Paris as a welcome dinner. He wanted to take you here, too. This is the waiter we had last time. He knows we’re from the States.”
“Ally-san,” interrupted our waiter, “quel est son nom?”
She looked at me, “He wants to know your name.”
Excited for my moment to shine, “Bonsoir! Je m'appelle Sam.”
“Enchanté. D'où êtes-vous?”
Even quicker than the moment began, it ended. I turned to Ally for help. “Where you are from?”
“Très bon.” The waiter kept eye contact with me, and in his thick Parisian accent asked, “Voulez-vous champagne?”
Determined to redeem my French I answered, “Sean Penn? No, Sean Penn is not from New Jersey.”
The waiter wore the most baffled expression I had ever seen. I turned to look at Ally, who was laughing at my expense.
She answered the waiter for me, “Oui, trois, s'il vous plaît.”
He smiled, and quickly spun away to retrieve whatever Ally had just asked for.
“Sam! He asked if you wanted champagne, not Sean Penn.”
“What?! It sounded like he was asking if Sean Penn was from New Jersey, too.” I repeated champagne in my best French accent, “shah-pahn. Come on! That’s pretty close to Sean Penn.” I laughed with Ally,
John Pierre joined in too. We began feasting on the oysters and bread and cheese that had been sent to our table compliments of John Pierre’s sister. The waiter reappeared with his tray stacked high with champagne flutes.
© Samantha Piergross December 2014
piergrosssn at g.cofc.edu