Words mean trouble

June 10, 2020

Words will get you into trouble.

As a watershed birthday loomed, I decided that the way to celebrate would not be with a party. Oh no, I didn’t want to advertise the event. Instead I wanted to go to Paris, where I would simply wander the streets and avoid the tourist traps. And so I booked a cheap ticket and an even cheaper hotel and arrived with two heavy suitcases full of winter clothes to face a rickety staircase that involved a sideways shuffle to get to the room. And switching on the light on every landing, which would go and out and leave me in the dark before I got to the next.

Food prices were such a shock that my first supper consisted of an apple. But by the second day I’d decided to forget my maths and splurged on a baguette. Turning a corner I found myself on the banks of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower looming overhead.

And there I sat on a bench under the cherry blossoms, with the houseboats bobbing on the water in front of me and the péniches trundling past laden with what looked remnants of a previous century. This was more like it.

With a South African sense of inferiority in the face of all things foreign, I’d been reluctant to use my beginner’sFrench. But on my last day, after a meal at a tiny café, I declined a second course offered by the friendly hostess, saying, ‘Ça suffit! ’ I was baffled when her expression turned sour and she stomped off. I’d simply been saying that I’d had enough. In fact, I’d been telling her to shut up.

But this I only discovered years later.This first trip to Paris made me want to learn French.