the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Parles-vous more slowly? Gracias!

The flight I took from SLC to Paris is a nonstop flight they added in 2008, the first transatlantic flight out of SLC. And they do it every day, not just when they feel like hopping on over to France to pick up some pain au chocolate. And would you look at me flexing my French! PAN OH SCHOCK-OH-LAH. You know what else I can say? COMMON TALL EH VU, AU JOURD WEE. Really slowly. Other than that, fuck high school French, man! I can’t understand shit!

I had joked with friends that I would get really good at saying, “Un moment, s’il vous plaît,” while quickly typing a sentence into various translation apps on my phone so that I could at least attempt to converse in the language. But when I got to Paris my phone would not pick up a carrier. I had no service. And when I got to my apartment, the Internet connection didn’t work. Meaning I was unable to communicate with anyone, anywhere. I may have committed murder—one tiny little very important murder—but I hid the body in a croissant, and voila! Pain au cadavre!

The ensuing panic attack coupled with the price I paid to have fully-functioning wifi Internet access for the duration of my stay convinced the man walking me through the bells and whistles of the place that he had to do something. So I’ve been using his “extra” phone as a hotspot until he and the service provider figure out their shit. And I’m sure having an extra phone in Europe or anywhere is totally normal, so I am not judging him. People have extra phones all the time, one for personal use and one for professional use, right? Except, I think he gave me the one for his personal use, y’all. Oh, mon Dieu! He’s got a truckload of messages coming into WhatsApp that could be totally innocent, I have no idea, JE NE LES COMPREND PAS, but I am not going to study them to find that out, and please please please don’t let him have a friend who thinks it’s funny to send dick pics. It is not funny, dudes. Put that thing away. No one wants to see that, not even your proctologist who, when he MUST, is all, oh god. Not another one of these! And then he considers quitting and learning how to install vinyl paneling as an alternative career.

A post shared by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

A post shared by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

A post shared by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

A post shared by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

Just now I was at the post office trying to figure out how to buy a simple goddamn stamp for a postcard so that I can send Leta some correspondence at camp, and instead of waiting in a line 15-people deep I tried—ultimately successfully!—to use a machine that dispenses the stamps per the type of package you’re trying to send. Except, I didn’t have the postcards on my person, and the machine was asking me to place the item on the scale so that it could weigh it to determine the cost of the stamp. Listen. I did my research, and I am not supposed to be paying more than 2€ for a postcard from France back to the states, and everything I had in my purse to place on that scale weighed 40 pounds. It wanted to charge me a car payment to send Leta a card that says, “Don’t itch your mosquito bites too bad! I’m in Paris. See ya!”

I finally set down my Costco Membership card and an unused Barnes and Noble gift card I have in my purse to get the weight down to YOU WILL NOW PAY FIVE FUCKING EUROS TO BE A TOTAL DOUCHE TO YOUR KID and I was all FINE, FRANCE. You are strange and difficult and magnificently complex. You win.

But not before un homme très ANGRY who had been waiting in that super long line started flipping the fuck out and screaming at the femme working the checkout—crazy fast French words were flying everywhere, you guys, knocking envelopes and empty packing boxes to the ground. I already think that French people talk quickly, but I had never heard one in person who was angry. It’s like they put their sentences on fast forward with no regard to the person watching the show with them, and they’re speeding through critical scenes and plot points and FUCK, just get past the fibromyalgia commercial and then press stop! How hard is that! Give me back the remote!

He walked over to the machine next to the one I was trying to figure out while still screaming really fast French and I was all, doo dee doo, boo boo beep beep, pressing buttons that made no sense whatsoever because I was too afraid to make eye contact. And then he leaned over to me, and from the tone of his voice he was talking total shit about that postal worker. Like, the meanest possible words I could not make out. I am not making this up! It totally sounds like I am, but y’all know this shit just happens to me. He was trying to get me to sympathize with whatever had just happened, except I had no idea what had just happened. He could have tried to order a goddamn cheeseburger, and she was like, “You do realize that this is a post office, right? We only sell cheeseburgers on Wednesdays and, oops. It’s Tuesday. YOU WILL WAIT.”

Who knows. This is France, and France is here to fuck with you.

So I had to make eye contact with him, and I channeled every molecule in my body to say through the look in my eyes, “Listen. If they don’t sell cheeseburgers until Wednesday, maybe you could come back then.”

He talked the whole three seconds that I looked at him, and when I looked back at my screen to pretend that I knew what I was doing I made, “Yep!” and “Mmm hmm” and “I cannot even believe that!” noises, noises that are universal noises. I have no idea if he was inviting me to kidnap her or maybe break her neck, but there I was making a noise that anyone in the world would understand as, “Totally! I’m on your side! Let’s do this!”

When that machine finally dispensed my four stamps he was still talking to me, so I smiled, ducked my head like I was walking underneath a really low doorjamb and walked out v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y so that maybe he wouldn’t see me. And when I made it to the street I really did feel like I had narrowly escaped a horrifying death. With 20€ worth of fucking postcard stamps in my hand! That kid had better sleep with my correspondence tucked under her pillow like it’s a block of gold given to her by Indiana Jones himself.

Saint merde! I finally remembered why I started writing this post. That flight is a flight that runs every day out of SLC and last week it was over 100 degrees for three straight days before I boarded it. While waiting at the gate they asked for 15 people to give up their seats —FIFTEEN!—and then when we got on board the pilot stepped out of the cockpit, grabbed the intercom and said, “It’s really hot outside, and we’ve had to dispense of some cargo in order to make sure that we have enough fuel to take off and make it to our destination. Don’t worry, all your checked baggage is still on board.” Which essentially means THEY HAD DISPENSED OF PEOPLE! They referred to passengers as cargo, which I guess is technically correct, whatever, but it felt really creepy! And then he asked for 15 more people to volunteer to deplane! What the hell! EXCLAMATION POINTS. Had they been doing this every day that week? Couldn’t they be a little more prepared for conditions like this instead of waiting until the last minute and going, “Well, let’s just ask 30 people to rearrange their European vacation. NBD.”

Excess cargo BE GONE! Off with their heads!

Also, my taxi driver from the airport into the city did not speak a word of English, not a single word, and I kept saying to him in French, “I am so sorry that I have so many bad French words for you.” WTF HEATHER. And then I realized he was talking really slowly so that I might be able to understand what he was saying, except when I did understand him I would say, “Bah oui,” in the Quebecois accent that my brother learned on his Mormon mission in Montreal and taught me to say (God, I hope he’s reading this). But I didn’t even realize I was doing it until hours later. It was just coming out of my mouth like that. An American woman thinking she’s cool in the back of a taxi in Paris speaking with a terrible Quebecois accent. I hope that guy has a blog and is like, “You’re never going to believe what happened in my taxi today. I just nodded my head like she wasn’t totally batshit insane.”

  • shanparker

    2017/07/11 at 9:29 am

    I spent a few days in Nice this past spring, it was my first time in France and I quickly learned that no one in France knows English and they don’t give a damn any other languages. I spent hours sitting on train tracks somewhere in France, trying to get to Barcelona. The conductor would only come out and give explanations in French. To this day I still don’t know why I missed my connection.

  • Josey

    2017/07/11 at 9:41 am

    Oh my, I just laughed so hard at this. We had similar issues with our iPhones in Spain in February (they were unlocked like we had been told to do, WTF?) and it was definitely disconcerting to be in a country without modes to communicate (or google translate!) at first! I do speak French, and I wish so much that I was on a European adventure with you right now! Spending hours writing and walking and taking in the scenery is about the speed I need in my life right now. Bon courage! 😉

  • Ellen Snipes

    2017/07/11 at 9:50 am

    In high school I went to Paris with a group of kids in my French class. They went around town all parle-ing français like they actually paid attention in school.. and literally the only two words I’d bothered to remember for the trip were, “combien coûte” so I could go shopping, point to something, and find out how many Euros to dish out. Fuck actually conversing with anyone. I was there for the scenery and souvenirs.

  • kmpinkel

    2017/07/11 at 9:59 am

    Hahahaha! I LOVE it! I LOVE the French, they are all bat shit crazy and incredibly sweet and kind once you chip off the crusty exterior. I am loving your photos and keep blogging-this is awesome! Merci!!!!

  • Ann Genevieve Garniss

    2017/07/11 at 10:10 am

    Ack, I feel so old. Totally did this exact same thing, except I’m 40 (and a little bit over), so I was still doing math in francs.

    Also, as soon as I used my terrible Ontario high school French, the sales staff switched to English – I guess I was obvious.

  • Erin

    2017/07/11 at 10:21 am

    Check the Mobile Networks setting of your phone — it should default to Global, but you can manually change it to LTE/GSM/UMTS. Then restart your phone. That should help you connect to a carrier there! Also, French post offices are the worst. Just wait until everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays for no reason! 🙂

  • Kevin Carter

    2017/07/11 at 2:03 pm

    This! This right here is why I love reading your shit. I was so so sad you went away and so so happy you came back! I hope you have weird insane experiences in Paris every single day. Well, maybe take one day off you deserve to be normal at least once whilst your there. Oui!

  • Alexsulliv

    2017/07/11 at 4:54 pm

    I hope Paris/France continues to give you the best crazy, worthwhile, had to be there to believe moments. Always enjoy your writing/stories. 🙂

  • sara watson

    2017/07/12 at 12:17 am

    French person here. Why should we speak English? Do French tourists expect Americans to speak French? I’m sorry you had a rough time of it but I’m so tired of tourists complaining about us being poor linguists.

  • shanparker

    2017/07/12 at 5:15 am

    I didn’t say I had a poor time and I also wouldn’t event necessarily expect him to speak English but we were in our way to Spain so I would have possibly have expected to hear a Spanish translation of the problems.

  • sara watson

    2017/07/12 at 5:47 am

    Rereading my message I sound like a typical disgruntled French person. Sorry I was rude! I live between Paris and Brittany where a large British colony resides and endlessly gripes about our admittedly bad language skills. I hope you’ll accept my sincere apologies…

  • shanparker

    2017/07/12 at 5:51 am

    No worries, I live in America and I only speak English, so I can’t be mad at others for only speaking one language. It was just something I noticed when I was there. Italy and Spain it was rather easy to find someone who knew English or English translations were usually provided. I had a lovely time in Nice and hope to come back one day, even though it was March the weather was lovely and I accidentally got a sunburn walking on the promenade 😀

  • JRSF

    2017/07/12 at 6:31 am

    You may have to call your US carrier to get intl roaming working. There are phone settings you control and account settings they do. Both have to be set to work. AT&T is a little easier to contend with than Verizon as far as auto working but both can get you there with service.

  • sara watson

    2017/07/12 at 6:50 am

    That’s lovely to hear. Thanks for being so gracious!

  • Blandine from Paris

    2017/07/12 at 7:03 am

    Hi Heather, congratulations, you have figured that France as a whole, including the newly elected government, are executing a master plan to make your life miserable while staying in our country. I mean, our fucking and shitty country. Yes, I have received mailed instructions that should I bump into you, I should Under no circumstances admit speaking English. Also, since we have a rather high budget deficit, we will try to steal your money through the post office machines. Men have been requested to send penis pictures all over the place, just in case.
    Ah well. I hope you still enjoy your stay in this dreadful city (to think that you could have gone on Holiday in Provo or des Moines and you ended up in Paris – I am sure your American readers are very sorry for you).

  • Allison

    2017/07/12 at 12:05 pm

    Passenger airlines often have cargo that is being shipped by freight forwarders 🙂 I promise you they didn’t throw bodies off the plane. But betcha there’s a client somewhere screaming at an operations associate pushing freight that their cargo is late and why did I pay so much to get this shit fast if it’s not here!? So they were asking people to give up their seats so they didn’t have to bump cargo because it’s easy to pacify passengers with vouchers….less easy to pacify a pissed off freight forwarder because they would never get a day off to USE said vouchers!

  • leatitia

    2017/07/12 at 1:18 pm

    I’m from Quebec and water just came out of my nose. Love our French cousins.

  • Suzy Soro

    2017/07/12 at 8:04 pm

    Half French here, grew up there, went to uni there, mother is French. I spent 4 months in Paris at the end of 2014 and was so stressed out from dealing with my MOM AND HER MOMNESS that I was incapable of conversing in proper French without crying. Whenever I was at Carrefour I would ask a French person to help me pick out the now 400 types of butter they have and they all spoke better English than I did. As to the rest of France, no but as you said, Americans always think the world should speak English to accommodate them. I always tell people, just TRY and speak French. The French will love you for trying. Beware the butter cases. p.s. I’m moving back to Paris in August. Heather, there’s no E at the end of chocolate in French. See, I can be annoying in both languages! Bon courage.

  • Geneviève

    2017/07/12 at 8:05 pm

    Oh boy, I already started laughing way too much at “COMMON TALL EH VU, AU JOURD WEE”! I seriously hope you’re gonna come to Montreal at some point in your life, this Quebecois accent is making me very happy.

  • Tasha

    2017/07/13 at 7:21 am

    …and this is why I use the Touchnote app – true you don’t get the local “Bonjour From Paris” postcards or the French postmark, but you don’t have to search for stamps or a post office, and since you’re using your own photos it feels a little more personal (or at least that’s what I convince myself because I get nervous attempting to speak in other languages).

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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