Living In Paris: I thought pointing and gesturing was half the battle

The other day the cleaner arrived, earlier than expected and I was home alone. I’ve never met her before as I’ve always been out when she comes (it’s a small apartment and I don’t want to be in the way). I wasn’t expecting to see her and so hadn’t thought about useful French phrases I could brush up on to make the experience easier.

I decided not to worry, because as many people have been telling me, pointing and gesturing is half the battle and you can usually make your point known that way (just like the universal symbol of pretending you’re writing in the air to ask for the bill in a restaurant). So, I pointed and gestured to the cleaning products and the sink etc, thinking it was quite self explanatory. Turns out it wasn’t. She was very confused (to the point where I worried perhaps she wasn’t the cleaner and I had just assumed she was) and it was then that I realised this wasn’t going to be an easy communication as she spoke no English and know as much French as a two year old.

She got a bucket out of the cupboard (I knew then she must be the cleaner as she knew where to find that) and started pointing at it. I gestured over to the sink, thinking she must be asking for water but she looked even more confused and started shouting something that I did not understand. So, I turned to google translate and typed “what is it you want from me?” into the translation box. A French sentence appeared and I handed her the phone, hoping we could communicate via google translate. Despite the French sentence being clearly displayed on the screen she looked even more confused and carried on doing some kind of charades with the bucket.

In the end, after I had pulled the majority of my hair out in frustration, I did the only thing I could think of. I called may boyfriend at work and asked him to speak to her and find out what she wanted. I tried to give her the phone but she wouldn’t take it from me (I think she assumed the person on the other end of the line would speak as little French as me) so I put it on speaker and asked him to talk to her in French. There was a sigh of relief all around when she heard French words coming out of the phone. She exchanged a few sentences and then laughed (I knew they were laughing at me). I asked my boyfriend what it was she wanted… it was a mop.

So when they say pointing and gesturing is half the battle if you don’t know how to say something in the local language, well they are lying. Because it might work in a restaurant but it certainly doesn’t work with a confused French cleaner!



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