One coffee, two prices
Upon entering Paris by train from London, it felt like we had entered another world. Kuala Lumpur was the first country I ever visited whose primary language was not English. I remember never really noticing this fact though as most people spoke very good English. Standing on the station platform in the Paris was a different story. All around us were unfamiliar sounds and signs I could not understand. With no accommodation booked and the afternoon drawing to a close, we had to figure something out fast!
Now one thing familiar no matter where one ends up in the world is the high golden arches of the world’s biggest fast food chain, McDonald’s (or Macca’s as us Aussies say). While I’m not a huge fan, Macca’s is a great place to leech free internet, a little trick we picked up on our six month US road trip. Inside, we took out our laptop and looked up some last-minute hotel deals sites and found a quaint little hotel known as the Splendid Etoile. Now all we had to do was hail a taxi and get to the hotel located fifty meters from the Arc de Triomphe.
Finding a nearby taxi rank we got to talking to an older couple from Melbourne, Australia who informed us the French find it a little rude if you do not attempt to speak their language. We had heard similar things before arriving and this was something playing on our minds. We knew the basics: Bonjour, Merci and… nope that’s pretty much it. The rest I was planning to bluff my way through and with my ability to mimic accents from all over the world I thought I could pull it off. Let’s just say the taxi ride was a rather silent one. Until we reached our destination that is, at which point I pulled out my bank card to pay. Then, in a tirade of both English and French the driver explained he did not start the meter or something and would only accept cash. To me it was the oldest trick in a taxi driver’s book but what were we to do. He conveniently (for him) drove us one block down the road to an ATM and once paid zoomed off leaving us a little unhappy with our first interaction with the French.
Thankfully, upon entering the little hotel with its shiny gold entrance and old style furnishings the welcome was far more… welcoming. The concierge congratulated us on our poor attempt at speaking French and offered to help us with anything we may need. Upstairs in our small but stylish room studied up on our French in preparationfor our four days in Paris.
The following morning we headed to the Arc de Triomphe for some photos and while waiting for Jen to return from the hotel with her jacket I wandered down to a small restaurant and espresso bar. It was time to practice my French, what little of it I knew. Approaching the bar I said in my most believable French accent:
The woman replied with a much longer phrase than this. I nodded and carried on:
“Un espresso s’il vous plait” (meaning: one espresso please)
The woman nodded and turned to make the coffee. It had worked! Gone off without a hitch. Once she returned with the coffee I paid her the 1.20 Euro said “merci” and returned to the Arc de Triumph feeling rather proud of myself and a bit more confident with this new language, even if I had only used but a few words.
The next day, Jen and I both returned to the same place for breakfast and on the way out I approached the same coffee bar and ordered the same espresso from the same barista. Only this time I asked for my coffee in English. When the woman placed it on the counter she told me the price was 2.40 Euro to which I was shocked. As I paid I looked around wondering if I had mistaken the place, nope this was definitely the same espresso bar. As I sipped on my coffee now double the price, I noticed a handwritten list pinned to the wall next to the register. There were two price lists and what looked to be the names of drinks. The only other recognisable word which appeared was “touristo”. Could it be? A price list for tourists and one for locals? It was!
Leaving the bar I was not angry, far from it in fact. Only a day earlier I had pulled it off! I had passed as a local and the price was the proof! So whether the French find it rude if you do not attempt to speak their language or not I cannot say. But one thing I can say, is they will charge you less for your coffee if you can talk the talk.