Madame, Why Aren't You Speaking French?

This post was contributed by Molly Welsh.

I’m currently on lockdown in Spain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I presume like most, I’m in a sort of trance-like state where I’m thinking about everyone I’ve met. People that I consider family or friends, people that I don’t consider my family or friends. I’m thinking a lot about love. I can’t stop thinking about Paris.


Paris, France //  December 2019 

Conversations in England always begin with, “Where are you from?” Whereas in America, it seems that the people always want to know, “What do you do?” But in France, the conversation starts something like this: “Madame, why are you not speaking French?”

I don’t speak French because I’m relying on a single piece of paper that my French housemate used to jot down the absolute necessities for me: “A coffee with milk” and “leave me alone”. I should have learned by now that cramming in fifteen minutes of studying followed by another fifteen minutes of browsing YouTube for only half relatable content, never works. Still I was that person again, waiting in the airport with all belongings spread across the floor, thinned across many an individual’s personal space; that person who purchased one of those ugly and ludicrously expensive, novelty tourist pens in some effort to learn the entirety of the French dictionary, only an hour before flying. That person that never could succeed for the promise of Paris was always too much. 

Perhaps the explanation for why I fled to Paris for Christmas can be found within the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine or in the script of that Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. Unalike to any scene of a cute thirteen-year-old Parisian boy pulling up on a Vespa and gifting roses to a cute thirteen-year-old American girl, my daily routine was along the lines of this:  eat croissant, drink coffee, complain how my feet hurt due to the metro strike, eat croissant, sarcastically smile at creepy man number 1 who rather abruptly told me to smile more; drink coffee, eat croissant, immerse myself in the culture by taking part in a brisk walk; otherwise known as that traditional Parisian exercise that aids as an escape from creepy man number 2, who has not only tried to sell me a miniature Eiffel Tower, but also a lucky date! Later, finish the evening with a glass of wine, another croissant and enjoy a relaxing taxi ride back to the Airbnb from a driver who might not know the word for “money”, but certainly knows that universal symbol for “make it rain”.

I had visited Shakespeare & Company, I had attended L’Atelier des Lumières and I had eaten all of the goddamn croissants that the city had to offer. Everything was crossed off from my checklist. Except I was still awaiting that movie-like moment of a cute (but not thirteen-year-old) male vespa-ing me away to a meal on top of that Eiffel Tower, that I had come to despise for the money I spent for simply using an elevator. Where was the whirlwind holiday romance that I had clearly purchased along with my ticket? Unrealistic, I know. And I could admit to being young and immature, but instead I point my finger to the Olsen twins for skewing both my concepts of reality and Paris.

My last day arrived and I passed the time through streets, getting lost (not in the romantic sense) and once again, eating croissants. If you were visiting Paris during the Christmas period, perhaps you saw me sitting in Place du Tertre, crying, eating croissants. I couldn’t face the embarrassment of having such dreams that the movie scenes had spoon-fed me just like a toy kitchen set. At this point, I should clarify that I am truly content being single. But love was always been promised to me in this city.

 Of course, I had made that classic tourist mistake of staying in one place for too long. A woman approached me, “Madam! My God! Madame! You have the soul of the moon”. I did one of those quick mental checks that become routine when you travel a lot: My jewellery? H&M. My phone? A smashed iPhone 4. Money? 20 Euros. She can take the bankcard, it will be declined. She continued, “Madam! I promise you. If I draw you, I can tell you your future. I promise you, Madame. Only 10 euros.” At this point, I thought it would be a good idea to spend my money on something other than pastries.

I learned her name was Eleanor. Now, Eleanor never claimed to be an artist or anything. She had simply told me that if she drew me, she could predict my future. So, Eleanor starts with my eyes. “Tiny eyes, Madame. They are very, very tiny!” All the better for curiosity. Next came the ears, “Darling, such pointy ears.” All the better for hearing the truth in people. It was at this moment that I realised Eleanor had sketched quite a large forehead. “Madame, wow! Your imagination is fire. It’s truly beautiful. You have so many ideas”. I took a guess, “Is that because of my gigantic forehead?” She nodded, “Exactly, Madame! Exactly”.

In an attempt to be able to look at myself happily in the mirror again, I pushed the weird and blatantly unasked for comments about my facial structure, to the back of my big head. But Eleanor was charming and I was eager to hear more, specifically more about love. “Darling, darling. There’s a man”.  I leaned in, “Tell me more”. She adjusted my nose on the page, just an inch fatter. “Well, Madame. I see you are very in love. He is older than you. I know that you work with him and you will marry soon”. I pondered for a moment. Mostly because I am a part-time English tutor for children, so this proposal seemed rather illegal.

Following a peculiar exchange of 10 euros for a picture I’ll refer to on Tuesday at my body dysmorphia support group, Eleanor wanted to know one thing. “Darling, you must tell me. Who is this man?” I laughed. “I paid you to tell me. He doesn’t exist!” The strange encounter ended with the bisous and the advice to scrunch up the picture before hanging it on the wall. That would bring good luck, apparently. And although I felt that it was the equivalent of me scrunching up the money and handing it to her, I respected her instruction. It looks better that way.

Ávila, Spain // March 2020

Well, the movies may have tricked me of romance. But Paris conned me for all of my money. In many ways, this city was the reality check that I didn’t want. I’m eager to return for the Jardin des Tuileries, meals of cheap wine by the Seine and Journeys Around the Mediterranean at L’Atelier Des Lumières. I haven’t left the house for two weeks. But I’m planning for when I can. I’m thinking about people. I’m thinking about love. I’m thinking about Eleanor and my hatred for croissants. I’m watching Our Lips Are Sealed in bed, spooning hot chocolate, prepared for when it is safe to travel to Australia; and I alike to the Olsen twins, will be an eyewitness of a crime and forced to go undercover in the land of Down Under. 

Conversations before quarantine always started with, “I can’t stop to talk right now” and ended with, “Sure, another time!” However, one thing I’ve noticed throughout this craziness is that all of my calls begin with, “I’ve missed you” and finish with “I love you”. At least now, I finally have the time to learn French.

Meet Molly: I’m just a northern girl from England; a bit rough around the edges. I’m currently teaching English in Spain, where I am enjoying learning the language through a rather peculiar and charming guitar teacher, that will only let me learn Mecano songs. I am due to start a masters degree in Scotland this October. I will be studying Publishing, where I will develop and produce both a collection of comical short stories from my travel antics; as well as an anthology of my own poetry that focuses on attitudes towards “virginity”, casual sex and drug use in cinema contrasted with reality. Keep up with me on IG.

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