There is a widespread opinion that the French do not much like speaking other languages, English included. It is not strictly true. I happily try out my primitive French, and my experience shows that once people realize I am a foreigner, they try their best to help. Thus we communicate, both parties in a rudimentary language not their own. I take care to brush up on my own vocabulary before going out, carefully constructing a few simple phrases in my head, especially if I have to do some shopping. When I couldn’t find one item I wanted however, I did the logical thing, that is asked a shop clerk who was busily stocking up some shelves. “Ou est levure?” I asked politely. The young black woman stared, then barked, “je ne sais pas cet mot!” And disappeared among the isles. I realized that French was not her native tongue; what’s more, in such a case my request might have sounded like le (an article) and the mysterious vure, which might be a non-existent word. Still, if one doesn’t understand you one doesn’t have to be rude.
At home,I checked my Google translator, and learned that there are two words combinations, levure chimique =baking soda! and levure brioche = yeast. On my next foray, I found both without any problems. Bakeries are no problem, especially in the Latin Quarter where all the languages are spoken. If a shop assistant doesn’t get your “pain aux raisin”, chances are a customer will help you out. And of course one can always point. Just remember to say the French Please and Thank you, S’il vous plait and Merci, and you’ll be fine.
It takes a second to figure out what is said to you too. In French, “h”in the initial position is not pronounced at all plus the stress usually is on the last syllable. “Ot dog or amburger?” sounds a bit strange but you get used to it pretty fast. The numerals may be a bit confusing too, though again you get the hang of it in a couple days. For the life of me I cannot pronounce vingt, 20 correctly, and maybe that is why I cannot understand it when it is said to me. I don’t even try to ask about bus number 85, since the numeral is quatre-vingt cinq, way too many nasal sounds for me. Though it is a good way to remember your basic arithmetic since it means four times twenty and five.
I listen to a place name and practice saying it aloud prior to a new expedition. Saint Severin, I repeat after Google, trying to produce the elusive nasal sound at the end. Compared to that, names like Le Louvre and Rue Rivoli are simple!