On my bus ride to the doctor’s office yesterday, a frazzled-looking woman boarded and asked the bus driver if we were headed toward the American Hospital. Hearing her desperate English and the driver’s unsympathetic French replies, I stepped in and told her that yes, the bus was going to the American Hospital, and that she should just get out when I did.
She thanked me profusely, and then proceeded to launch into a sad litany of all-too-common complaints about expat life: The language barrier, the difficulty of doing the most simple things, not being able to drive, having a hard time making friends, dealing with surly French bus drivers.
I just smiled and said, “Yeah, but that’s what they make the champagne and croissants for!”
She laughed weakly and said she was just glad she was moving back to New Jersey next week. Where she could drive all over the carefree suburbs and find people who actually spoke English. Because seriously, why was that bus driver being such a jerk? I know he knew what I was saying. How come he didn’t just help me out in English?
I just smiled again patiently and said “C’est la vie.” But what I really wanted to say was maybe he doesn’t speak English because YOU’RE IN FRANCE where people speak FRENCH? And after living here for 2 years you should at least be able to ask simple questions in the native language?
Because I’d really, really like to see how that bus driver would get along in Princeton, NJ if he refused to make any attempt to speak English. He’d probably get punched in the face at least 16 times just trying to figure out why he’s not allowed to pump his own gas.