September 02, 2005

read zees post wiz a frensh accent

note: this is a really long post. and not very good. sorry. skip it if you're not really bored :-) i've been really frazzled and stressed the past few days (obviously) and it reminded me of another excellent bout of frazzled stress, during a trip to france about a year ago.

my best friend married a french guy last august. they had a ceremony and reception in nj, then flew to france about 2 months later for a second reception with his family. i worked for an airline at the time (which means i flew for free!) so i got an invite to the france shindig as well. clearly, i accepted. :-)

so, the way it works for airline employees (at least at my airline) is that i could fly whenever i wanted, wherever i wanted, but the catch was that i had to fly standby. it wasn't usually a big deal, since i had direct access to the reservation system, and knew exactly how many people were booked on a given flight at any time. in other words, i knew which flights had room for me or not. the other thing was that i could fly on a number of other carriers by purchasing an employee pass on their airline. it was a fairly nominal fee, based on mileage flown, and totally worth it to fly around, say, europe, to places my airline didn't serve. cool. so my plan was to fly to paris on usairways - there was always an air france flight as well, for backup - and then take the metro to a train station downtown, where i'd buy a ticket for Reims, which is where my friend's new husband was from. paris flights looked GREAT that weekend. tons of open seats. i wasn't worried. famous last words.

i took off the last 2 hours or so of work to catch a flight to philadelphia. once there, though, i got bad news: my flight had inexplicably filled up. as had my backup flight. as had my double-secret backup flight on air france. which meant there were no more open flights to paris that night, period. i was stuck. no!! i couldn't be stuck!! i had to get to france!! so at the last minute, i jumped on the last flight across the ocean at all, to manchester, england, just so i could get to europe. i figured once i was across the pond i could work out the smaller details, like the fact that i was arriving in entirely the wrong country.

once in manchester, my plan was to go to the ticket counter, find out which airline had the first nonstop flight to paris, purchase my airline pass on that carrier, and go. a problem i hadn't anticipated was customs. i wasn't expecting to exit customs in england, so naturally i didn't have an address i could provide on my little debarkation card. it seems that if one doesn't have a place to stay in england, one typically has a ticket for a connecting flight which will take them out of england. i had neither. i had a very long, very frustrating conversation with the customs guy before i convinced him that i wanted to leave the customs area just for a LITTLE WHILE, just long enough to buy another ticket, honestly, i swear, and then i'd leave england, seriously. see? here's my original ticket to france! that's where i want to go! why didn't i just go there? well.. um.. see, the flights filled up, and i got knocked off the flight, and this was open, but i didn't have time to figure out which carrier to take from here and buy a pass, so you see.... you can imagine how i sounded to the customs guy.

eventually, i get released so i can go buy a connecting ticket to paris. yay! it's now about 10am, i think, and i go up to the ticket counters and start figuring out when flights to paris are. there are about 3 airlines that have non-stop flights, so i figure i'll just fly whoever's flight is first. except... all the flights are full. FULL. as in, airline employees without confirmed seats? not joining the other customers on board. as in STAYING STRANDED IN MANCHESTER, ENGLAND. i was supposed to be in reims, france, at about 6pm that night, which was at least 2 hours by train from paris, which was across a channel in a DIFFERENT COUNTRY. and i'd just been up all night after missing 3 flights (which let me tell you, is STRESSFUL) and working a full day at work before that. the ticket agent must have seen the hysteria starting to build behind my eyes, because she told me very nicely that she'd put my name on the list, and to come back about 25 mins before the flight left and hopefully i'd get on.

so i tried not to think about how i was potentially stuck in manchester, england, with no place to stay and no way to get out, for potentially EVER, and found a place to sit. and waited.

and waited. and waited.

FINALLY, i got on a flight. probably at around 1. i'd been up for about 24 hours at that point. i think i almost cried when they called my name for boarding.

fast forward a few hours, and i'm landed in paris, through security, and ready to finally finally finally get a ticket to reims. i was pretty sure i was going to have to take the metro into center city and get a train ticket at one of the larger train stations, but i thought i'd check with the people at the airport first. i wasn't sure how far out reims was, and i thought maybe one of the trains from the larger paris regional metro system might go there. so, i approach an information window at the metro area, and ask the guy if i can get a ticket to reims.

now, if you don't speak french, here's a quick phonetic guide to how a word like "reims" is pronounced. the "r" is that stereotypical gutteral back-of-throat "r" just like when people make fun of the french; the "ei" is pronounced more or less like the "ee" in "cheese," and the "s" at the end of a word like that is typically silent. and french has a fairly reliable phonetic system (unlike english). so i asked the guy, in french, if i could get a ticket to "rhEEm" at this location, or if i'd have to go to gare du nord or someplace in paris.

he squinted at me. "where??" (but, you know, in french)

"rhEEm?" .. i thought maybe the vowels might be funny in this one, so i tried again as "rhEHm." no luck. this went on a few more times ("where?" "rheem!" "where?" "rhehm?" "where??" "rheem!!?!") until the guy pulled out a large map of paris and asked if i knew where this mystical place was. i told him it wasn't actually IN paris, it was its own city. he looked at me in confusion and disbelief. "and WHAT's it called??" "RHEEM!!"

in desperation, i finally wrote it down on paper and passed it to him: r-e-i-m-s. he looked at it.


imagine the most stereotypically french pepe-le-pew-type character saying this sentence:

" 'Ow do yoo get zee shampoo 'out of ze 'air? yoo RHHAAAANNCE eet out!!!!"

..and that's how it's pronounced. stupid french cities.


  1. I was instructed by a tri-lingual dual citizen American friend never to speak French in France unless you ABSOLUTELY knew what you were saying.

    I asked where the stairs were and no one ever knew I wasn't French.

    What a country. I don't wish to ever visit again unless my wife wants to see it.


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  3. An art director I used to know once took a cab in Paris using the accent Inspector Clouseau did in the "Pink Panther" movies. Of course the cabbie was confused and my friend had a laugh at his expense.

    Dang frogs!

  5. Lol!!! That was hysterical! Poor Alice, but at least you got to see a lot of nice airports...

  6. Haha, I read it in French per instruction.

    I guess I'm one of the people who likes long entries, because, hey, I write long ass stuff too.

    Write on! (<--I can't believe I wrote that.)


  7. LMAO - Reminds me of the last time I was in Paris.

  8. you werent kidding when you said it was a long post!

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  10. hahahah! in my experience, the french don't really think it is cute or quaint to mispronounce their language. hahahahha.

  11. Lol, I speak french and would have pronounced it along the same lines you did.
    I never would have pronounced it Rhhaaannce,or whatever it is.

  12. ALICE i miss all your comments and all your crazy stories... catch up on your work so you can come back!

  13. ROTFL... and I love all the traveling, even if it was a pain in the ass.


  14. you go away and comeback and blog a novel!

    word verification = texbxgi

  15. That was superb! Its like murphy's Law applied to travel and everything that could go wrong did! I hope the party was worth it when you got there :)