Dave: This was a strange morning for us. We both had
trouble dragging out of bed after our late dinner and walk in the
rain. We both slept soundly but had been chilled to the bone and
walked to exhaustion. This was our morning to pick up our first car,
we would keep it for three days, driving across Normandy, then return
it in Rennes to head back to Paris.
I was up and showered first, in our teeny-tiny French bathroom. We
had layed our clothes and umbrellas out to dry last night, but they
were all soundly cold and damp. We watched "Morning Live"
as I got myself dressed. We had decided to take a small risk today
(against Lyn's wishes) and have me set out alone on foot back to
Hertz at the Gare du Caen (train station) while Jesse stayed behind,
showered and changed at his own pace, and organized our laundry and
luggage. He could be a little more flexible with packing today, as we
would have a car when I returned! The walk to the Gare was rather
boring, and today I knew my way. There would be no confusing cut
backs and cross overs (in the rain) like yesterday, but the traffic
and construction was just as bad, as they busily built their new
trolly line. I took several pictures of interesting signs along my
way, and was at Hertz in just about 15 minutes.
stepped into the small office as the lone counter attended spoke
animatedly on the telephone to somebody. When finished he turned to
me with a delightful grin and a chipper "Bon Jour!". Oh
dear, I said, "English?" (I was still "le poulet"
about speaking French). "No", he said, pointed to the empty
spot at the counter beside him. "Ten Minutes", he added,
motioning me to take a seat.
No way, I thought, I have rented cars a hundred times, and could do
this with just grunts and hand gestures. "Non, Merci", and
fishing Lyn's note out of my pocket, "Rezervazion, si vous
plait", and holding the sheet out, I pointed to the numbers
(sparing him my awful French rendition of those nine digits). I
presented my license and he whacked away at his keyboard. I added
"Merci, Monsuir", and he grinned. As he typed, I paced
about and enjoyed the various guides and posters, thinking how such
transactions always seemed to take longer in France than the USA, and
how more than "ten minutes" had already elapsed. I pointed
to the "Hertz Club Gold" sign and asked "Club d'Or?
Oui?" "Non!", he replied making fun of his American
employer: he dropped his musical French accent to poke fun at all
Americans: "Klu-buh, Ghol-duh". Then, he (and I) smiled
from ear to ear.
He printed and I signed the contract, (then I read it) and the
numbers did not match my note from home. Oh no! (Montreal
all over again) How on earth would I communicate this? I pantomimed
concern: eyebrows, frown, head scratch, lip bite; held up the two
papers showing him the different numbers. Oh yes, he explained it all
very quickly (in French, of course), but I sat dumbfounded while we
both sat in silence for a moment. He then pantomimed showing the
"extra charges", adding them up. I would learn about
renting a car in France versus the USA, that all charges are spelled
out beforehand and match EXACTLY what you pay at drop off. In the
USA, the papers at pick-up match the reservation, but all the add-on
fees (taxes, airport fees) are added on upon return. I was afraid of
a "double whammy", but instead was simply experiencing
France's equivalent of "full disclosure".
I verified our drop off would be in Rennes but could not pronounce
either city. He had fun teaching me Caen ("Khon") and
Rennes ("Rhun"), but to this day my American mouth cannot
say either. Don't even ask about Cannes and Rouen. I won't ask
directions in France without a map in my hand! He pointed to
"H25" in the box marked drop-off and repeated
"Ruhn". "Oui, merci" I smiled.
"Map?", "no, no". I tried to tell my story,
"A Pied" (on foot). He was confused so I pointed to my
shoes, and made the little walky guy with my fingers. "American,
a Pied, sans Auto". then pretended to walk about.
"Kuhn", "Castille", "Abbey du Homme",
"Abbey du Dames"..... " A PEID!!" then looked
forlornly, "no, no carte".
He stepped from around the counter, so I lead us to the front door
and opened it. As I began to step out, I turned to see him standing
with a plaintive face. "Oui, Monsuir?" he asked, then
slowly turned toward the back door where the car was parked in the
back lot! "Si vous plait", he motioned to the front street,
inviting me to see if I could find a car out there. No less deadpan
was his face than Buster Keaton. The car (out back) was fine, a grey
Renault. It was large by European standards, with a roomy interior
but a small European footprint. It was a manual transmission
(naturally), and he pointed to the gauge. "Dee-sal" he said
for me (NOT unleaded "Benzine Sans Plomb" en
Francais). Oh? I added concerned eyebrows and wide-open eyes.
"Diesal en Caen? Diesal en Bayeaux? Diesal en Rennes? Oui?".
"Oui, oui, oui he calmed me, "deisal OK". then added
"Diesel" to make sure I completely understood the big Red
sticker on the face of the fuel gauge. OK.
He was delightful, I started the engine. Then we shook hands. He
added "Au Reviour" and headed back inside. I sat a bit
adjusting the seats, the mirrors, finding the gauges, setting the fan
and vents. Then I went to back out, and could not. I pushed on the
shift knob, then pulled it, then looked for a button or a twister.
Nothing. There was, of course, a safety on reverse and I could not
find it. Sheepishly, I shut off the engine and went back inside.
"Monsuir? Pardone?" I put on a grin, "Reverse?".
He smiled, grinned, his eyes twinkled (and rolled a little). He shook
he head, followed me to the car, then jumped in and showed the small
ring that head the leather boot over the stick shift. He pulled
up the ring, and dropped the car into reverse. He pointed to the
alley exit and reminded me "Droit, Droit" (Dwah, Dwah:
Right and Right to exit). We shook hands again, and this time he
stood and waited for me to drive away.
Suddenly, I had left the country of "Pedestria", but what a
surprise as all of the arrogant Frenchman that had been stepping in
front of cars, were suddenly stepping in front of me! Sans Pied, Avec
Voiture! Way more than half an hour had elapsed and his
English-speaking partner was still nowhere to be seen (so much for
'ten minutes'). And the clock was ticking with Jesse back at the hotel.
drove back to the hotel, and found that I had not noticed a small
parking lot behind the building. I was wondering how I was going to
'double-park' the car. But I would only be a few minutes, so I parked
(along the fence) and walked around front. Our French hostess was
very concerned, chattering, pointing to her watch. Then chattering
more! Not a word in English. This was delightful yesterday, but the
extreme anxiety made it less enjoyable this morning. I did the
universal calm down gesture, finger spread palms down slow vertical
motion, all the while pantomiming a big smile and slow large nod.
"Yeesss! Yeeesss!" and I headed up the stairs. The
maid was cleaning the room next to ours, and Jesse was very agitated,
and upset. It was no big deal, but I had left him alone and, indeed,
a crisis had developed. We were to check-out by 11am. It was 10
minutes to eleven, but I had "disappeared" so to speak.
THANK GOD I had not waited for the English speaking person at Hertz!
Jesse had us packed, but did not have the presence of mind to start
taking the luggage to the lobby to wait for me there. He was mostly
dressed, but still confused. He had not wanted to fully pack the
suitcases (ala for the train) and therefore he would have been
hauling open bags of dirty underwear down the stairs had I not
arrived just in the nick of time. He had to tell the story, sitting
on the bed, and I kept making the universal gesture for "get
moving" (broad sweeping forward arm swings in unison from the
knees up and outward) and "finish" (spinning the forearm in
a circle from a stationary shoulder and elbow). We grabbed the stuff,
and headed downstairs. I poked into the other room, and said simply
"Pardone, Si Vous Plait, Au Reviour, Merci" and nodded and
waved and made sure she knew we were out. It was here that we looked
up and learned the short hand French term "Oost", which
translated as "Scram" in our little cheat list.
In the lobby, our Francophone hostess wanted so badly to tell us her
story, and I thought it would be fun to try to bond with her, my
telling her a little about us. But we had such a bad experience with
finding the place, and her dinner recommendation, and now this little
circus this morning, that I consciously left without taking her
picture for this page (the biggest insult I know). And I still feel
that way. I tried to tell her about dinner at L'Etoile (the star). I
said "lay-E-Twah" even pointing to the ceiling and using
the finger thumb pinch to say a "small thing" in the sky.
She had a French-English dictionary and I found "etoile"
and pointed to it. Ah, she said "E-Twah" (which sounded
exactly like I had been saying!). Oui, Brasserie de l'Etoile, but the
effort had been so taxing as to make the conversation totally pointless.
I thought it would be fun to try to tell her that we "home
school" Jesse, and that we are in Normandy due to his cooking us
"Normandy Sauce" as a home school project. I pointed to
Jesse and said "Ecole" (school), and Oui? Then added
"Maison" (house). Pointed to me and added
"Professor". She was stupefied (again). The point soon
became pointless, but I tried one more time.
"Ecole-Cuisine-Normand", and she stared blankly, blinking
her eyes. We had all laughed when she told HER story about Jesse
saying "CHECK OUT", which she parroted and showed that she
couldn't find in the dictionary. (duh, its an idiom!). I had added
"Sortie" (exit) and later we learned "Oust"
(scram!) as an all purpose word meaning "time to go". We
had been good sports for her, getting the point of her story, but she
was simply lost. I might have tried talking German instead. I thought
about the conversation for a long time, then figured that
"Ecole" "Maison", rather than Home-School, might
translate as "School-house". So I pointed to him and told
her I was building a school house or something. No wonder. Later, I
figured I might have said "Ecole" "Residence" for
Schooling in our Home. But who know, and come to think of it, who cares?
packed the car, and I excitedly told Jesse about the delightful guy
at Hertz. We drove around a bit, to the places we had walked in the
rain yesterday. We stopped and took a picture of "Brasserie de
L'Etoile" (in the daylight) for the web-page. Then I headed us
back to Hertz. We would need a picture of my friend for the web page.
I pulled through the back way, parking in "my spot", and
brought the camera and Jesse in with me. When he saw me, he looked
immediately concerned (had I wrecked the car? Had I filled it with
Unleaded?). When I showed him the camera, he knew immediately! The
empty seat was now filled with a lovely young woman who spoke English
with a French accent directly from spy movies. "Can I help you,
sir?" she asked. "Non, Merci, Photograph, Mon Ami" I
said to her (but actually to him).
I went to pose us at the counter, but he grabbed my shoulder and
walked us outside. Then we all looked up at the sun (he knew about
casual photography) then he positioned us to get optimal light and to
get the car in the shot. We took the picture, and since I always take
two in these cases (just in case) I added "Encore" and
switched our sides. I pulled out a web-card for him, and wrote
"Une Mois" (one month) on the back, and pointed to the URL.
He took my elbow and lead us to his office, fired up his terminal,
and we brought up our site. He peeled off a business card from his
desk, and showed me the email address on it. I committed to write him
as soon as this page was finished. We smiled and shook hand and
patted each others shoulders while Jesse signaled it was time to go.
But I wanted just one more minute, then we headed out. I was so very
glad to have made a new friend. Mon Ami en Caen!