One of the first things I did when I got to City Where Both Men and Women Wear Bright Scarves was buy a scarf so that I would blend right in with the rest of the population. I figured that the scarf could hide the fact that I was wearing sneakers instead of the dark shoes that everyone else had on. Of course, I was also wearing a red fleece, which seemed out of place in the sea of black coats. (Hey, a fleece is handy when you travel; you can use it as a pillow.) I was also carrying a map. And I kept taking out my camera. Then there's my accent, and my mannerisms, and the way that I have to stop and look at everything and exclaim about how cool it is. So it is possible that one or two people might have suspected I was an American.
When we got to our hotel in the City Where Young Men Who Reminded Me of Boy In Black Played Their Guitars in Metro Tunnels, my daughter took charge and talked to the hotel manager in French. After a glance at me, he said, "I can speak English, if you'd like."
"No! No!" I said, "Je voudrais parler en Francais." I mean, what is the point of going to another country if you aren't going to learn the language?
He laughed, and obligingly launched into sentences of French, complete with all kinds of hand gestures. I nodded at each sentence, and waited until we got on the lift to ask my daughter, "Okay, what did he say?"
From then on, whenever we arrived or left the building, my daughter would coach me ahead of time and I'd go up to the desk and say something French. Hotel Manager would laugh like crazy and then patiently answer.
It was like that pretty much all over the City With the Musical Language. Waiters, ticket collectors, museum staff – most of them probably bilingual – were just incredibly patient with my pathetic attempts to speak the language. It helped, of course, that most of the waiters, young men the same age as my daughter, were so taken with her that they usually wanted to hang out at our cafe table and flirt with her. The young men were as funny and informal as the teenage guys who hang out at my house, and I suspect they would have teased me as much even if I did speak French fluently. When I tried to explain to one waiter that I was looking for a "non-smoking" table, he said with a grin, "Oh, you can sit here and not smoke." Our laughing just encouraged him. He took out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to my daughter.
One young man, when he figured out that my daughter could understand French and her parents couldn't, took the opportunity to flirt with her outrageously. Every time he left the table, she would translate for me. He kept asking her to go out dancing with him. She protested (in French, of course), "But I'm with my parents!" He looked at me and said, "Your mother can come. And your father can go back to the hotel and get some sleep." He kept pretending he didn't know what my husband was asking for when he said he wanted the check, and kept entertaining us with all kinds of pantomimes. When we finally left, he came to the curb and blew my daughter kisses.
Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter is very adult for her age, self-assured and confident, and living in a city for the last couple of months has only increased that. Unlike her mother, she adapts to new settings right away. In her thin black coat and boots, she fit right in with the other passengers on the train. She would glance at a train map on the wall of a station and make a decision without breaking stride; she guided us about expertly. In the afternoon, she would head off confidently by herself to explore the city while my husband and I went back to the hotel to take a nap. She'd make sure we had our metro map and knew what stop to get off, then she'd leave us with a wave.
"I guess she's a grown-up now," my husband said to me the first night.
But even adult as she is, she is still the same Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter. It was much easier saying goodbye to her this time, knowing that her semester is half over and in another seven weeks, she'll be home for the summer.
Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter going off to explore a city street.