It's one thing to talk to people face-to-face, reading expressions and hand gestures. It's totally more intimidating to call and have nothing but the foreign words resonating through the speaker.
Ever since I arrived in France as an au pair 30 years ago, and the telephone rang in the apartment where I stayed with the 3 and 4-year-old American girls, I've had a fear of answering the phone in a strange country. Standing there in that apartment watching the land line vibrate, I finally reached out, picked up the phone and handed it to 4-year-old Brigid.
"Hello!" she said enthusiastically in American. It was her uncle who spoke perfect English, lucky for us.
|Me as an au pair in Corsica, after my French had gotten a little better.|
Even my husband, who speaks very little French, tried to call a restaurant the other night to order a pizza that he would pick up. He muddled his way through while I was in the shower after an exhausting hike. I had said I was too tired to go out for dinner and he, like Prince Valiant, rode a white horse up to the barricades, but couldn't quite get through. It turns out that the pizza place he was calling was closed, but he proclaimed the person on the phone very helpful, although unable to speak English. But we went to a take-out restaurant and ordered a pizza, carrying it and a goat-cheese salad home.
Thus far, a month and half into our journey, I have avoided speaking French on the phone. But this village is the one where we need to look at apartments, to decide if we want to rent here.
|We visited the 12th Centuy chateau above town. Here's a view of the mountains through the entryway.|
"Call," my husband urged. And I did.
One of the first things I said was "I speak very little French." I just think it's better to be upfront about it.
The man I spoke to didn't add a lot of superfluous words. He told me there were two bedrooms (perfect for you would-be guests) and that it costs four hundred blah blah blah, per month.
"400?" I asked.
"Quatre cent, soixante blah, blah, blah," he said again.
I hesitated. 460? Well, the complicated French system could mean anywhere between 460 to 479, because the French don't have a word for 70. They say sixty plus 10 or sixty plus 15, all the way up to eighty. So, I know it was somewhere between 460 and 479.
He said we couldn't see it until next week.
We leave Monday, I told him in my rudimentary French.
"Monday at 9 a.m." he suggested, and we agreed. We leave Monday morning for the next town.
Earlier in the week, we went to a real estate agent to see if they help with rentals. They don't and told us none of the real estate agents do, but they directed us to the tourism office that had a list of rentals, both in Quillan and in the surrounding area.
Our hosts here at the AirBnB suggested we talk to a different real estate agent because some people who are trying to sell their homes might be willing to rent them out. We tried for two days to contact that real estate agent. It turns out that the English speaking agents are on vacation.
Today is Friday. We had better be serious about finding a place to rent.
We started with a walking tour of the places that included their addresses so we could size them up. We also stopped at the butcher's shop and asked him about the apartment above, which was listed on the rental sheet. It had been rented, the butcher assured us. It was so much easier to ask in person than to call.
When we returned to our room, after stopping at the bakery, I put off the calls even more. I needed to finish breakfast. I'd better take a shower.
Finally, at 11:40, I emerged from the bathroom ready to make calls. I had 20 minutes before everything would shut down for lunch.
While Earl had showered, I'd made a script, typing everything into Google translate to make sure I got it sort of right.
"L'appartement, est-il toujours disponsible?" I would never have said it that way. Is the apartment always available?
I dialed the first number, took a deep breath and pushed the call button.
A very nice woman answered. When I explained that I only spoke a little French, she gave me a "bravo" for attempting to speak French and promised to talk slowly.
I asked questions like is the apartment furnished and is the kitchen equipped. It is common in France for the kitchen to be only a bare room without sink, stove, refrigerator or cabinets. This one is equipped. She told me she lives 300 kilometers away and she has a locataire locally, someone who will show the apartment. She texted me his phone number and the address of the apartment.
Of course, texting is so much easier!
Another phone call to make.
I left a number of messages for people and answered the phone with trepidation when the familiar theme from Castle played. Another appointment on Monday morning to see an apartment.
A call came in. Another apartment not available.
Maybe after all this, I won't be so afraid of making phone calls in French, but my heart still speeds up at the thought of answering the phone in a foreign language.