I dropped by an apartment yesterday to pick up a set of keys and write down a door code and generally prepare for a move-in. The building manager was away so the person in charge was the cleaning person. She is/was more worldly than I in that she speaks French and Spanish but no English at all. I speak cretin-level French and Spanish, so there was no common language ground. It was agony — I was nearly brought to tears. And all I was trying to do was explain to this woman that I would move in next Monday, 6.3, and vacate on Sunday, 6.9. Somehow this attempt at conveyance (how much simpler could a message be?) turned into a 35-minute melodrama of misunderstanding and subtle groaning.
I suppose I’ve gotten used to almost everyone in Europe speaking at least some English so it’s a serious shock when you encounter someone who understands zip. The woman tried to move things along by calling an English-speaking friend and then giving the phone to me and having her friend translate, but somehow this didn’t quite work either. I’m the idiot — it’s my fault for not being a better French-speaker. I just don’t have the gift for it, I suppose. I only know two things. One, the kind and gentle cleaning woman showed the patience of Job. Two, I was ready to jump out a window while attempting to speak with her. And three, I don’t want to “speak” with her ever again for the rest of my life.