Friday, 28 June 2013

Why it always pays to know a foreign language

A bus in Lyon. No traffic jam.
Oh god, that was all I needed. There I was this evening, on the way home after working downtown all day, and my bus ran into a traffic jam. A big one. I'm used to traffic during rush hours but this was obviously due to an accident or something. Patience Frip, patience.

I text a girlfriend and she's available to text back so we text for ten minutes and that helps the time go by. 45 minutes on a stretch that only takes 2 normally. Boredom? Tell me about it.

Then the bus leaves that road as part of its route and takes another one, where there is no traffic. Yay! When we finally get to the bottom of that road however, another traffic jam awaits us at the intersection where the bus turns next. Nothing was moving for hundreds of yards and we were obviously in for a long wait.

But my stop was only 30 yards away. I wait 2 minutes, and then, just as pissed as everyone else at being sardined in a traffic-jammed bus (is that even English?) for almost an hour, I politely ask the driver if he can open the doors for those of us who want to alight at that stop.

Me: Est-ce que vous pourriez ouvrir les portes s'il vous plait pour laisser descendre les gens pour cet arrêt ? (Could you open the doors so that people who want this stop can get off please?)

Driver: Non, désole. Je n’ai pas le droit de laisser descendre les passagers ailleurs qu’à un arrêt. (No, sorry. I'm not authorised to let people off anywhere else than at a bus stop.)

Me: Mais il n'est qu’a trente mètres et rien ne bouge ! (But it's only thirty meters away and nothing's moving!)

Driver: Non. Désole. (No, sorry.)

His persnickety and punctiliously excessive sticking-to-the-rulebook attitude annoyed me. A lot. So I said, mostly to myself, and IN ENGLISH - because English 'gets it out of my system' better than French when I'm annoyed;

Me: Oh that's total fucking bullshit. The traffic is at a standstill and we've been in this thing for an hour for fuck's sake!

Driver: Well fuck you. I'm not opening the doors until the bus stop.

I WAS DUMFOUNDED!! THE GUY SPEAKS ENGLISH!!! AND WELL!! AND WITH A LOVELY ACCENT!!! So I looked him right between the eyes, smiled, and said;

Me: Fuck you too. But you have a super accent I must say.

Driver (smiling):  Thanks, I lived in England for years.
Then he opened the doors, I thanked him, he said no problem, I got off the bus, and we waved goodbye....

Languages are good for you.


  1. :-)
    I love your story.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Ah, the joys of public transport....

      Still, I prefer public transport for all that's wrong with it - but let's be honest, we can't complain here in Lyon, on the contrary - to being alone in a car in a traffic jam. At least you're not alone on a bus, you meet people, things happen, and some of them are very positive indeed.

      A bit of language, a bit of dialogue, and bingo, tout le monde est content !!

  2. Great story, but have you considered this angle?

    You also smiled. That can be a powerful tool. (Especially since fewer French people smile than speak English!) He smiled back at you and opened the doors.

    Although the lack of smiles might be a Vannes thing. People have often told me that les Vannetais are a miserable bunch and I think I've noticed that other towns are friendlier

  3. "Although the lack of smiles might be a Vannes thing."

    Thanks for the info Streaky, and I have just crossed Vannes off my 'Must Visit' list. :)

    I too have thought a lot about why the French don't smile much in public. In fact they're very reserved in public. Why? You might want to read this article I did a long while back on that precise subject.


    Rainy Lyon.

    1. Read the article and actually remember reading it. It's the same every time I go home to Derry. The difference is striking.

      But I might have said before that the rench are just like everyone else - you just have to get to know them first! Then they make great friends.

    2. Yeah, and just as the difference is striking when you go back to Derry, it's the same when I go back to Liverpool. peepul iz diffrunt innit.

  4. Considering that people in France see me as cold and quite unexpressive, the culture shock in Liverpool would probably kill me.

  5. That is a funny story! I think all big cities in France are pretty heartless but it is much better in small cities and villages (I hope).