Jeremy Felt

Le Grand Secret En Montpellier

Place De La Comédie, May 22, 2011

We don’t speak French.

This is relevant because we are currently in Montpellier, located in southern France, about 12km from the Mediterranean coast.

The fact that we don’t speak French feels like this secret that we’re carrying around with us as we walk the city streets. It’s something only we know and as long as we don’t open our mouths to speak, nobody will find out.

Michelle mentioned as we were walking through the very popular Place De La Comédie that everything felt surreal, almost as if we were in a movie. I agreed completely, although I may attribute some of that feeling to the second hand copy of The Bourne Identity that I picked up for £1 back in Bishops Cleeve. We could both imagine Bourne appearing all of a sudden and racing through the square in a glorious action scene.

Where was I? Language.

While we feel uncomfortable, absorbing the language has definitely helped. We are both studying little pocket guides that we picked up in the London Luton airport, and we’ve been watching some French TV in our room. Between that and walking around town under constant bombardment from French advertising, it has at least started to feel more comfortable being in a place where your default reaction is to not understand a thing.

After some contemplation this morning I came to a few obvious but important conclusions:

  • We aren’t the first to visit a country and not know the language.
  • Other tourists are in this town, so we aren’t abnormal.
  • As long as we don’t freak out and run away, we’ll make it through any situation.
  • We’re walking across Spain after spending a bit of time in France, so we better get over it anyway.

With that concluded, I at least slowed my brain down and started to concentrate more. And so, the cafe on the side of the main square that we stopped at today went much smoother than the previous day’s excursion to the supermarket. Without the deer in headlights look, I explained in French that I don’t speak French. Irony, anyone? I then proceeded, also in French, to order one San Pellegrino with lemon and one coffee while only really screwing up the lemon, which in French is ‘citron’ rather than ‘limon’ or whatever it was I said. But the waitress understood, we got our drinks, we enjoyed our drinks, and all was well.

Responses and reactions


Diane Felt replied on 

Great conclusions. I couldn't agree more. We also found that if we at least had several critical phrases down pat and made a concerted effort to speak the country's language, 9 times out of 10, they already knew we were American (we apparently looked obvious), and they graciously shifted to English. We always thanked them, because we often felt embarrassed to think how many citizens of other countries speak English fairly well.

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