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Travel anecdotes: Give me more mushrooms

I’m going to inaugurate a new recurring feature on this blog that I hope will provide a bit of extra amusement for my readers as well as give me an opportunity to talk about things that I love talking about the most – my travel experiences. In this series, I will recount the comical and curious situations that we occasionally found ourselves on our journeys.

Quite a lot of unintended comedy comes as a result of feeble attempts to communicate with natives in their tongue.

When we first went to France, my French was nowhere as it is now. Purposefully studying an audio course or two does not really train the ear for the free-flowing conversation one might have with a native speaker. And French, in my humble opinion, is one of the harder spoken languages to understand, due to its soft sounds and the plethora of monosyllabic words that are easy to confuse with one another or miss altogether… Natasha has always been better than me in the “understanding French” area – I am considerably stronger in speaking and reading departments – but she does not have a habit of intervening in conversations where I might be making a fool of myself (unless she is directly affected)…

One night, for dinner, we picked a rustic auberge in a Loire riverside village. The staff did not speak any English. This was the seventh or eighths day of our trip, and I was pretty sure that I already mastered the process of ordering food in French. I asked for wine, selected appetizers. When I named the main course of my choice, our server, an amiable plump woman in probably her sixties, broke into a pretty quick and lengthy tirade, which sounded to me like “bla-bla-bla champignons bla-bla-bla-bla-bla” with a clear question at the end. Happy that I could discern a word in her speech, I quickly surmised that she was asking me whether I wanted to have a side of mushrooms with my main course. I confidently responded with “Oui, champignons, s’il-vous plait“. She looked at me a bit funny and asked me what surely sounded like “More of them?” I was not at all clear where the conversation landed me by that point, but I still answered affirmatively.

The lady retreated to the kitchen with a mildly amused expression on her face. I started to replay in my head what I thought I heard her say. And it became clear to me that what she was saying was “The dish comes with mushrooms on the side, and you can have this or this or that as another side; what would you like?”

To which I obviously answered that I wanted more mushrooms…

We corrected the misunderstanding when our appetizers arrived. The lady assured me that she was anyway going to bring me potatoes au gratin as my other side. Which worked just fine for me.

We counted that meal as the best on our entire trip. The French country food is unbelievably good!


  1. Vince

    Mmmmmm… mushrooms.

    And at first I read that whole “…communicate with natives in their tongue” section slightly different.

    At one time I could speak halfway decent German and Spanish (and a little bit of Chinese), but as I’ve never stepped out of the continental U.S., I haven’t had the chance to practice, so I remember very little. I have an acquaintance from Israel that speaks nine languages pretty well, and am amazed when he demonstrates his fluency.

  2. Ilya

    I always wanted to speak many different languages. Sadly, I ended up with fluency in only two, although I do possess different levels of basic skills (including pretty advanced reading comprehension in two cases) in four more.

  3. Brian Greenberg

    Our high school Spanish program used to run a bi-annual trip to Spain. I never went myself, but the famous story while I was there was about the student who was shopping in a clothing store in Madrid, picked up a blouse, and asked the clerk, “Como mucho?”

    “Como” means “how” and “mucho” means “much,” but the Spanish word for “How much?” is “Cuantos?” “Como mucho” means “I eat a lot.” According to the story, the clerk kept bringing her larger sizes of the item, while she, her frustration level growing, kept growling, “Como mucho!?!”

    I’ve always assumed that some part of the story was apocryphal, but no matter – it’s still a cute story…

  4. Ilya

    Yep, a perfect example of a language barrier mishap, Brian! In fact, I have a couple of my own related to Spanish as well. Probably not as hilarious, though…

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