The French Lisieux

Today’s prompt is: You’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the native language

We were in a train station in Paris, France, hoping to board a train to Giverny, where Monet painted, then another to Lisieux, and then a final train back to Paris, all in one day. None of us spoke French (we’d all taken Spanish in high school) but, of the three of us, I was the best at picking up languages and imitating accents, which is to say I sounded like a tourist. I was the designated communicator.

I read the times board and information guides as best as possible and cross-checked them with the minuscule phrase book I had, which included phrases for buying a train ticket and going to the bathroom and the numbers one through ten and not much more. I picked the first train out to Giverny and we made it there without a hitch. Trying to find a bus from the train station to Monet’s gardens was a whole other ordeal, though, but some Frenchwoman took pity on me and spoke in nearly perfect English. We made it to the gardens, had a lovely time surrounded by other tourists, and then made it back to the train station right after a little lunch in a café by the gardens.

Back at the train station, I was trying to make sure we were boarding the correct train for Lisieux but my pronunciation was all wrong and the platform attendant had a hard time understanding me. The train I thought was correct was supposed to arrive within five minutes and we were on the wrong platform. Finally, I simply wrote the words “1:00 Lisieux?” on a piece of paper and showed it to the attendant. Ah yes, I had read the times guide correctly and we needed to get to the other platform pronto! Somehow, we made it, it’s a blur, and we set off for the birthplace of my patron saint.

When we arrived in Lisieux, we first went to the basilica and then wandered the streets of the hometown of my saint. It was quaint and unastonishing; I’m sure Thérèse preferred it this way. At one point, we ran into a little old French lady on the streets. She saw that I was tilting my head continuously (I had an ear infection) and, though she spoke only French, asked if she could pray for me. In English, I said “yes,” and explained that we were pilgrims coming to see Thérèse. In French, she told me she knew and she blessed us. I didn’t know the exact words she was saying, nor did she know mine, but I felt their meaning. We had a whole conversation like this before we had to leave.

On the train back to Paris that night, we met a girl who spoke fluent French and she corrected my pronunciation of Lisieux, but I still struggle with it. We stayed one more night in Paris and then trained back to our university in Austria the next day. You only needed to know English there.

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