“Do you sell corkscrews?” I asked, while simultaneously pointing at the bottle of wine on the counter and miming the action of opening it. I enthusiastically twisted the non-existent bottle opener and looked expectantly at the girl behind the till.
The curly-haired cashier gave me a strange look and slowly shook her head no. I wasn’t sure if she didn’t understand or if they didn’t sell corkscrews.
She rambled off something in French (as if, somehow, my attempt at acting hadn’t made it clear that I didn’t speak the language). I stared blankly back at her. I tried desperately to search for the words but my ninth-grade French failed me. She spoke again and this time I caught on – she was asking where I was from.
“Canada!” I blurted.
She looked back at me, confused. I didn’t catch all of what she said next but understood that it was the equivalent of “you mean you live in Canada and you don’t speak French?!”
“Dans l’ouest, no parlez francais” I replied, knowing full well that some people in the West do, in fact, speak French. I just didn’t know how to explain to her that it wasn’t exactly common for someone who grew up in Saskatchewan in the 90s to be fluent in the language.
Ironically enough, it was because of my lack of French that I couldn’t quite get across the nuances of bilingualism in Canada.
She gave up on trying to communicate with me and I gave up on the corkscrew for the time being. I’d have to find one somewhere else.
She rang through my groceries – cheese, meat, a baguette, and the bottle of wine – and handed me the bag with a smile. If nothing else, this patient cashier and her attempt at making conversation had challenged what everyone had warned me about before heading to Paris. I was expecting my feeble attempts at French to be met with a snobby attitude, not kindness. She had proved the stereotype wrong.
I stepped out of the small grocery store and onto the street. The sun was shining. The air was warm. And I was….burnt out. Marathon days of exploring Paris and crisscrossing the city had left me tired. I decided to forego the Louvre and just relax for the afternoon. A picnic in the park was the only thing on my agenda.
The Sacre Coeur – one of my favourite buildings in Paris.
It was my first day alone in Europe. After six weeks of traveling with a friend, she had boarded a plane that morning for home. I was now a girl alone in the world and had no one to rely on but myself. I was feeling confident and ready to take on whatever the rest of this trip would throw at me.
I certainly wasn’t expecting my first major challenge to be figuring out how to open this damn bottle of wine.
I walked back toward the hostel I was staying at, scanning the storefronts and searching for somewhere that looked like they might carry a corkscrew. I stopped in at a few places and repeated my mime act. No luck. I asked the front desk staff at the hostel. Since they spoke English, communication wasn’t an issue but, no, they didn’t have a corkscrew either or know of where to get one. It was kind of boggling my mind that a place with one of the highest wine consumption rates in the world wouldn’t have corkscrews on every corner.
Reluctantly, I gave up my search and concluded that I’d just have to settle for a Parisian picnic, sans wine (see?! I do know French!).
The Arc de Triomphe, complete with tourist hordes.
I grabbed my map and wandered the streets until I came upon a quiet park. It was pretty much the perfect scene. Couples lounging, groups of friends throwing frisbees and kicking soccer balls, people walking the path that circled the park. I spread my sarong out on the green grass, laid back, and promptly fell asleep. It was exactly the kind of day I needed.
When I came to, I pulled the food from my bag and started munching, still a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to enjoy that wine with my lunch. I picked up the bottle and absent-mindedly perused the label. I glanced at the foil around the top. I paused and pulled it closer to my face, inspecting it more intently.
And that’s when I realized my mistake. When it suddenly became clear why that cashier seemed so confused by my desperation to find a corkscrew.
Could I really have been that daft? Could I really have spent half my afternoon wandering around Paris, twisting an imaginary corkscrew in random strangers’ faces when all along….it was a screw cap.
I effortlessly (and a little sheepishly) twisted off the cap. I looked around at the other people in the park, as if they might somehow know about my silly little mistake. I took a swig straight from the bottle.
And just like that, my Parisian picnic was complete.