If you’ve ever traveled abroad you know that communication snafus are a guaranteed certainty and will most likely be a regular occurrence during your time away. No matter where I find myself I always assume that if I can’t find the correct words, a point, a smile and many mispronounced apologies will eventually get me where I’m going or get whatever delicious thing I’m ordering closer to being eaten.
But inevitably there will come a time, where you’ll nail that rolling French “r” so awesomely that whoever you are talking to will assume you speak the language (silly) and take that as the go ahead to up their conversation to light speed, leaving you in the proverbial dust.
When someone starts speaking rapid fire French at me, strange things begin to happen. My brain immediately shuts off, as if to remain blissfully unaware that it’s under verbal attack. The one sided conversation usually continues long enough where it would then be extremely awkward to explain that I do not, in fact, speak French and so I did not, at all, understand what they just spent the last two minutes of their life explaining. Instead of interrupting, I find myself nodding, agreeing, inadvertantly trying very hard to act like I understand and attempt to match either their disdain, happiness or in true French fashion, one followed by the other. It’s as if I have no control over my body or my facial expressions- they just tune in to fight or flight mode and try and recover.
When it’s finally my turn to speak and a response is absolutely necessary, I usually go with a oui or non (both solid choices) and the intention of never letting that happen again. Until it inevitably happens again.
This very thing occurred just the other day when I went for, what I will call, one of the most perfect croque monsieurs in Paris (the best croque monsieur in the world, if you’re wondering, would be from Normandy, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve probably already lost all credibility with my “best croissant in Paris” sentiments (I know Juhlès isn’t in les guidebooks, but have you tried it?), so I will simply continue making bold statements like this as I please.
I first came across café la Comète by accident about 6 years ago when a group of us were looking for an inexpensive, casual spot to grab some dinner outside in the Marais. This sidewalk café looked inviting and no fuss, so we sat and ordered a number of things off of their rather extensive menu. After having our minds blown from the awesomeness that was their croque monsieur Poilâne, we ended up going back a few days later…and then again after that.
The use of pain Poilâne as their bread of choice is what drives this bad boy over the top. Instead of two pieces of thick white bread on the top and bottom of my ham and cheese, the long, slender piece of Poilâne serves as the base for all that cheesy, toasted goodness on top. Many brasseries around Paris will offer you the choice- to Poilâne or not to Poilâne- and quite frankly if you opt for the later you’re doing it wrong.
It will come as no surprise then, that when I’m low on croque monsieur, I head back to la Comète. And usually, I’m able to get through my sitting, my ordering, my paying and my leaving without looking like le stupide. But on this rainy afternoon in February, I sat myself inside, ordered my favorite sandwich and found myself on the receiving end of a very extensive lecture by my waiter. Did he want me to move my seat? Were they out of bread? Was this just a general state of the union address regarding croque monsieur? All these questions ran through my mind after I uttered “Ok,” and he disappeared. Unsure of what to do I did nothing (genius, I know). Out came my water. Out came my sandwich. And still puzzled, I enjoyed my lunch in peace from there forward.
Somehow during my travels I must have mastered the art of covering up the oh-my-goodness-what-in-the-world-are-you-saying-to-me look that often accompanies my French conversations (in no small part due to the sheer number of embarrassing exchanges I’ve encountered). Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
café la Comète. 4th arrondissement.