Thursday, February 9, 2012

C'mon Paris - Give the people who don't speak French a break!


While there's no way that I want all of the cafés in Paris to start boasting about their English speaking employees like Maison Teissedre, I was pretty annoyed when I first noticed the following sign on the door of the Musées des Arts Décoratifs on Saturday.


Imagine that you're a visitor from Asia - make that a shivering visitor from Asia because it's really cold in Paris - and you arrive at the entrance of the museum. You've been looking forward to seeing their extensive decorative arts collection ever since you booked your trip 6 months ago, so you're extremely disappointed to see the red barrier blocking the entrance and this sign on the door. What does it say? Moving your head from side to side, you try to make sense of it and are just about ready to give up when you see someone scurrying past. You haltingly ask for help in English, the other language that you speak besides your own.

This really happened - I know because I was hustling to get out of the cold when a timid young Asian woman approached me for help with the sign. She sighed with relief when I explained that the door was closed because of the cold weather and that she could still visit the museum by using the main entrance located on the rue de Rivoli.

I snapped a photo of the sign but didn't really plan to use it for a post until I was, once again, hustling to the museum for a tour yesterday and almost slammed into the red barrier. I should have known that the door was closed because there was a large group clustered around the sign trying to figure out the words while the security guard stood inside and motioned dramatically with his hands.

After telling the group of Russian tourists that they could enter the museum on the opposite side of the building, I had plenty of time to fume about the fact that there still wasn't a sign in English on the door as I hurried to the entrance on the rue de Rivoli. I understand that I live in France and that the national language is French, but as the most visited city in the world, Paris could give the people who don't speak French a break...especially when it's so cold outside!

To lighten the mood after my rant, here are a few other signs that I saw yesterday:


I think I may know why the French don't post many signs in English. "I was in love in Paris" sounds tragic. Questions like, "What awful thing happened in Paris?" and "Why are you no longer in love?" popped into my mind as I studied this sign in the window of Cityrama, a company that organizes tours of Paris and France. Compare the English sign with the one in French that proclaims, "St. Valentine's Day in Paris is romantic".


And finally, just in case my Swiss editor needs some help remembering the date, this sign in a chocolate store on rue Saint-Honoré is counting down the days until the big V -- that's right Valentine's Day.

Photo taken on Saturday - 10 days until Valentine's Day
Photo taken on Wednesday - 6 days until Valentine's Day

9 comments:

  1. Of course the person who posted/wrote the sign may not feel adequately in charge of the English language to post such a sign. I guess I've never been in a country where I don't have some understanding of the language, written at least. I may indeed be challenged if the local language were also written in a different script--I can only imagine how poorly I would navigate unaccompanied in Laos or the Ukraine, for example.

    As for the "I was in love in Paris" sign, I read it completely positively and romantically--the past tense only refers to the visit, not the love.

    Now, some chocolate on Valentine's Day, now we're talking.

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  2. I also thought that the person who wrote the sign may not feel comfortable writing in English, but the sign was probably written by someone at the information desk and they speak English. I'm annoyed because the guard could see that people didn't understand the sign on Saturday and they still hadn't changed it when I was there on Wednesday. In the meantime, I'm sure that a lot of people didn't go inside the museum because they mistakenly thought that it was closed.

    Thanks for telling me your interpretation of the "love in Paris" sign. It must be that the cold weather is starting to fray my nerves and skew my sense of humor! To console myself, I had a steaming cup of hot chocolate and some chocolate cake yesterday afternoon. That combo always makes everything better!

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  3. Woman after my own chocoholic heart...hot chocolate and chocolate cake all at once! Hmmm, for my own little treat was scheming on how I could get that chic little handbag here in time for Valentine's Day???

    As for the sign, well, it is always a dilemma where you have lots of tourist. Here is California, almost all signs are in English and Spanish so someone from Paris may have the same quandry :)
    dekage

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    1. I debated with myself for about two seconds if I should go with the full chocolate fix but there was no turning back after looking at the pastry menu. You could get a pair of chocolate stilettos from Jean-Paul Hevin to go with your chocolate handbag for the ultimate Valentine's Day treat!

      It's true that signs in touristic areas are always a dilemma. I'm just more used to the Swiss approach where they're often in multiple languages because of their 4 official ones, plus they almost always throw in English for good measure.

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  4. As much as I am adamant that people learn the language of the country they are living in... tourist destinations are different matters altogether. That sign should have definitely been in english as well, and maybe any other language they could throw on there. I mean it's freaking freezing outside!
    I'm sure the people you helped were so happy that you were there :-)

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  5. They really were happy...and relieved! :) But I couldn't help thinking of all of the tourists between Saturday and Wednesday who didn't have someone to help them. Like you said, it's freaking freezing! And I completely agree with you, it's important that people learn the language of the country where they live.

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  6. I fully and totally agree with you on this one! I don't speak English as my mother tongue and so far I've always stayed and lived in countries where I spoke (learned) the language but I well and truly find that the French exagerate in totally ignoring signs in English. I got very, very angry already a few times when I was standing in queues for museums or exhibitions and NOBODY of the official 'bodies' would as much as bat an eyelid to help the foreigners who - we mustn't forget that - pay good money to come to Paris and look at all that stuff. I can't count the times I have played translator, interpreter and what not, rescuing in one instance an elderly English Gentleman to get access to the toilets because he just couldn't stand another moment in the never shortening queue and not being able to make himself get understood when he asked with desperation an official at the entry to use the loo.... This attitude is rude, wrong and a bad publicity for this wonderful city.

    Thank you for putting your mark on this.

    MK; You know what I do when I encounter situations where a helping hand would suffice? I offer my services to translate. You being married to a Swiss guy (they are the bestest, no?!?!.... lol) would well be able to translate those disquieting signs at the entry!

    My Hero Husband was totally lost when he travelled on business in China twice; as soon as he left the main station, everything was written in signs he couldn't possibly understand and he said it was a sobering, frightening experience.

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  7. I love all those hearts!
    I hope your Swiss editor will give you something nice and romantic. We don't really do Valentine's Day any more :-( I meant to make some treats for Chris but I've been too exhausted with all the tree lugging!

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  8. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont w
    hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, wahooart.com, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?

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