Funny Adventures from London to Paris
I was fifteen and wrapping up my third, although short, summer in Exeter, Great Britain. My parents decided that it was time they embarked on the journey across Europe to pick me up, instead of me taking the usual flight home to Italy.
I am not sure how their outbound car trip went, but our return journey was quite eventful: police cars, missed tunnels, barges, and the Louvre.
The Journey begins.
We started out about midday from Exeter to London. It was not a long drive; however, it had been very stressful because of the need to drive on the opposite side of the road. In spite of the fact that my parents had already driven on those roads, the fear of getting on the wrong side was ever present. Needless to say, when we reached London, all my parents could think about was to find the Crystal Palace, a camping location in the South of London.
What a beautiful city, but what a mess to try to get around by car, at least for three very tired foreigners as we were. We had been given directions to reach the camping site, but some of the roads turned out to be one way, so it was on me to ask for directions, since my parents did not speak any English.
My English was improving, but it was not, by any stretch of imagination, as fluent as it should have been.
Any communication in that part of Europe was up to me, at least until we reached France.
“Excuse me Sir, how can we get to Crystal Palace?” I asked in well rehearsed English. I must have done a good job because the gentleman began rattling off directions. He eventually realized, by my facial expression, that I was totally lost in his explanation. He began slowly repeating the directions. He must have uttered two sentences when we both heard, “Tank you, tank you. Good day.” Then my dad drove off.
Puzzled, I asked if he understood the directions. “No” he said. “I just got tired of listening to him.” So, off we went. My dad finally gave in and we stopped, once more, to get directions, this time from a police officer. The officer tried his best to explain, but when he realized I could not understand him, he just said “follow me.” And so, thanks to our police escort, we were finally able to reach Crystal Palace and called it a day.
When it was time to leave London and head for Paris, we asked for the best way to go. We were told to reach Dover and take the tunnel. Or at least, that is what we thought they said. We were given written directions, so with those and a map in hand, we embarked on this part of our adventure.
After circling the same area for about an hour, we realized we were, once again, lost: that little flower garden started to look awfully familiar! This time, my dad decided to patiently wait for me to understand the directions. Alas, his trust was unjustified for either we encountered a jolly old fellow who loved to pull someone’s leg or I had missed the explanation completely.
As we traveled the road that would take us to the tunnel, we found ourselves in line with many other vehicles. It was not until about half an hour later that we stopped the car, got out, and with much agitation began saying and motioning “Stop! Stop! Stop!” All traffic stopped.
I don’t know if we or other fellow travelers looked more bewildered. Commotion ensued as people came to our aid. However, we could not understand them and they could not understand us. Although Italians are known to speak with their hands, our gestures did not serve us well that day.
To our great relief, a man in uniform, one of the barge’s attendants, came to us and in his broken Italian asked what the problem was. We explained that we wanted to go to Paris but, somehow, we ended up on this big barge and had no clue where we were headed. With a chuckle, he reassured us that we were on the right track. We would travel to Paris above water instead of under water. Traffic resumed. Red in the face, my dad and I reentered our vehicle and patiently waited for Calais to appear.
I finally took a sigh of relief. We were no longer in England. My translation and mess up time was done and over with. It was now my dad’s turn.
If you ever want to meet a foreigner, all you have to do is to visit a famous landmark. One of the days we stayed in Paris was spent at the Louvre.
It is a beautiful museum and people of all ages flock to it attracted by famous works of art. The most admired though is the “Mona Lisa.”
As we made our way to the painting, we were trying to figure out where we could rent the audio devices that would explain the different items on display. As we scanned the room, we noticed two young men standing, with said device in hand, right in front of the “Mona Lisa.”
My dad turned to me and said, “Go ask them where we can get the devices,” to which I replied, “nope, we are in France and I don’t speak French. It is your turn to ask.” My mom all the while was patiently waiting on us to decide what to do. Dad and I both approached the young men. In the very best French he knew, he asked, “excusez-moi, où avez-vous reçu ces telephones?” (excuse me, where did you get those phones?)
The two young men looked at us for a few seconds; then, one of the two, in the best English he knew, said, “right over there” pointing towards the desk at the entrance. My dad at that point turned to me and in his perfect Italian said “questo e’ inglese. Adesso tocca a te.” (This is English. Now it is your turn).
It was at this point that we realized that, even though first French and then English were spoken, in the end, all four of us were Italians! We all laughed and then continued on our merry way.
The whole trip was memorable. However, of the whole vacation, these funny encounters are what make me smile and laugh the most as I think back over that time.