“Would you like to look?”
“Oui, s’il vous plaît.”
The vendor back peddles quickly – he guessed wrong, we aren’t english speakers! There is clear concern that he may have offended us written on his face, and when he slips into surprisingly good french he is most definitely more polite.
My mother and I hang onto each other’s arms and laugh ourselves silly at the joke as we walk away from the stand, new leather wallets tucked into our purses.
It is Sunday morning in Florence, Italy and we are at the famous San Lorenzo leather market where haggling is expected, the choice is seemingly endless, and where (we find out) they treat you better if you speak a language other than english. It’s our last morning in Florence, the clouds hang heavy in the sky, and we are making the most of our euros, buying scarves, wallets, and gloves.
The past three days have been a whirlwind of incredible eating (at EVERY meal!),
spectacular artwork (the David!),
and breathtaking views (from the top of the Duomo!).
We’ve gone into artisan shops, learned about ancient Florentine crafts, and walked what feels like every street in the city. We have also discovered that the Italians speak french, or at least very often understand it.
When we arrive at the market my mother turns to me and whispers, “Let’s speak french and just see what happens.” I nod agreement and we dive in. It turns into a game between us – can we fool them?
Conversing even with each other in french whenever anyone else is listening in, I’m sure we left more than one person scratching their head. Appearing as a classic North American tourist, my mother speaks french with an excellent accent and few mistakes. I stumble along behind her, my long winter coat and simple accessories pointing towards european (maybe even french) influence, but a heavy accent and grammatical mistakes show how recently I’ve started speaking this language.
It’s so much fun that this game sticks. Back in France we start speaking french at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In stores, museums, and on the metro. If there are people listening, we are speaking french. Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes we don’t understand each other, but mostly it is fun. I can feel my french improving, rarely do I have so much back and forth in the flow of regular conversation. And rarely do I have someone so adamantly correcting my pronunciation (I’ve been practicing my vowels since you left mom – thank you!)
Weather they know where we are from or not, people appreciate the effort we are making. Our server’s face lights up when we ask for the menu in french, we are able to haggle lower prices, and I’m not going to lie – it is satisfying to sit speaking in french while the english-speaking North Americans next to us slide side-long looks our way wondering just what we are saying.
And then I blink and I’m back home. The sum is shining bright enough to give me a headache, my mother is back on the plane, and I’m left wondering where all of my time here is going. It has been both an instant and forever, as all moments that change us are. This has been just one more key to who it is I am becoming – thanks for sharing it with me mom, I love you!