Strasbourg: Where We Tried to Speak French

My sister Arielle and me

Strasbourg with my sisters had its amusing moments, especially when it came to speaking French. Coming from Canada, we like to think we speak more of the language than we actually do. Our high-school French classes taught us to describe the weather, order pizza with an array of toppings, deliver presentations about Coco Chanel, but not much else.

Architecture of Strasbourg, France

So what do you do when you find yourself in Strasbourg with a handful of garbage and not a trash bin in sight? You approach a restaurant owner and in your best French ask, “OΓΉ est le gar-bahhhj?”

That sounds French, non?

The woman looked back at us with a quizzical brow. “La poubelle?” she offered.

Pffft, la poubelle? What’s she talkin’ about?! “No, no madame. Le gar-bahhhj,” we repeated.

This went back and forth longer than I care to admit until she pointed us to the garbage bin.

What can I say, French clearly isn’t our forte.

French Cafes in Strasbourg, France

Ordering food didn’t go much better. We could decipher things like mushrooms, ham, and cheese, but we completely missed the part about our crepes being whole wheat and coming with a raw egg on top. Quoi?Β 

So do you wait for the heat of the warm crepe to cook the egg, or do you eat it just the way it is? It was the latter… Mmm, bon appetit ma sΕ“ur! Ashley looks like she was loving her meal.

Crepes-with-raw-egg-French-food

Surely purchasing boat tickets to cruise down the Ill River would go much better?

Un billet s’il vous plait.

To which the woman behind the counter responded in a stream of German.

Deutsch? No, no! I want to practice my French.

I know I don’t sound very refined, but German, really? I am going to blame that one on the fact that Strasbourg lies minutes from the French-German border…or perhaps my French really is that bad.

Je ne sais pas. But travelling with my sisters sure was a lot of fun. Now I just have to lure them out to Asia for more language faux-pas like this one.

Buildings by the Canal in Strasbourg, France

If you’re looking to practice your Francais, you may want to check out prices on flights to La France atΒ cheapflights.co.uk. Bon voyage!

Join the Conversation

41 Comments

  1. Strasbourg looks really cute! It looks like it has German architecture which is cool. And it seems that they gave you a galette complete – a buckwheat crepe (typically from Brittany) that has ham and cheese inside and an egg on top. I have no idea why the egg is raw though… that’s gross.

    And yes, my French is terrible despite living here I hate to say! I need to work on it.

    1. says: Audrey

      I loved the architecture in this city. It’s like a cute fairy tale village. And I’m sure your French is much better than mine. πŸ˜‰

  2. says: Jackie D

    I’m currently having the same woes in Mexico right now. Pretty sure that I was getting made fun of to my face at the airport in Mexico City while I smiled and nodded back at them. I guess I would have made fun of me too, though. That crepe looked… special — all it was missing was some spam, I think?

    Clearly I just still cannot get over how much spam you have in your possession.

    1. says: Audrey

      Haha, crepes and spam! Now there is an idea. I haven’t opened any of it yet. I’ll probably end up using it to feed the stray cats in the neighbourhood.

  3. says: Hannah Margaret

    Hilarious story. Classic language mix up with the raw egg. I know raw egg is my favorite crepe topping.

    And the mix of French in this post is hilarious.

    1. says: Audrey

      Mmm, isn’t it everyone’s favourite topping? πŸ˜‰ And the French you see in this post is kind of the extent of my language skills, haha

  4. says: Alli Campbell

    Ahaha this made me laugh. We are in Paris atm, and have ten years of “French education” between us. It hasn’t been as elegant and seamless as I might have imagined. I remember food vocab, Rob can form basic sentences, neither of us can understand a thing.

    1. says: Audrey

      I find it easier to understand what people are saying than I do formulating my own sentences. I just can’t seem to remember the words I need when trying to express myself, even though I know I learned the words for it back in school!

  5. says: Colleen Brynn

    Yeah man, I need to get my Spanish up to speed, since I’ve been studying nothing but anatomy, histology, perception, optics and medical microbiology! BLERGH!
    Also, that egg looks totally narsty!!!

  6. says: Rika @ Cubicle Throwdown

    My parents also do the “gahhr bahhhj” thing when we’re in Quebec too. Damn Canadian french education! I am hoping I have the chance to go to France before I forget all the French I learned. It looks like a really fun place to go with sisters!!

    1. says: Audrey

      Haha, I’m glad it’s a common mistake. I feel a bit better knowing other people run around saying ‘gahr-bahhj’ too. Heehee πŸ™‚

  7. says: Zhu

    Sorry about the “raw” egg thing! It is actually cooked a bit. It surprised Feng as well, totally forgot to mention that French love to top pizzas and crΓͺpes with eggs and that they are never fully cooked in France, the way they are in North America. It’s so normal to me that I don’t think twice and don’t find it gross, but I understand why you made a face on the pic πŸ˜†

    1. says: Audrey

      Ooo, I’ve never encountered eggs on a pizza. That sounds…interesting. And my sister is the one making the face in the picture, I’m the blonde one up top, hehe. I should include photo captions. πŸ˜‰

      1. says: Zhu

        Ooops, sorry, I know what you look like too, I’m sleep-deprived these days!

        Yep, in many places pizzas are individual (i.e. don’t even think of ordering a “large” and sharing like in North America, pizzas are exactly the size of one plate and each guest orders one) and come with an egg on top. I like “French” pizzas better than American ones actually, more toppings and less dough!

  8. says: Ashley

    Where is the mooning picture??
    It was one of the (twice) rare sights we caught that afternoon!!

    I read this in class and had to contain my laughter!

    1. says: Audrey

      Hahaha, yeah that one and the guy on the bridge that wanted to pour water at the passengers in the boat below. I figured I’d save the bare bum for posterity. πŸ˜‰

  9. says: Jessica

    My boyfriend and I are Canadians too, and he definitely suffers from the “I-can-totally-speak-french” syndrome. He has this embarrassing habit of starting conversations with francophones, and only then realizing that he doesn’t actually speak enough French to have a conversation.

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s really funny. I always try using English in Quebec and if that doesn’t work then I try a mish-mash of Frenglish and hand gestures. They seem to know what I’m getting at. πŸ˜‰

  10. says: Salika Jay

    Hahaha had a good laugh reading this post. It’s funny how Canadians like to think they are quite good at the language. Luckily I could use some French in Quebec but if I go to Strasbourg now, I would be in a bigger trouble trying to use French πŸ˜€ Thanks for a great read!

  11. says: Suzy

    Strasbourg looks like a charming place to make some language mistakes. I would be disappointed too if I order such a crepe. Ugh!

  12. says: Adrian

    Let me tell you one thing, Speaking french is really really difficult. I had the similar experience while asking for Tissue papers and Alas.. It turned out something else which I can’t explain. But I like the experience of getting everything as a surprise(No matter whether it was Good or BAd πŸ˜‰ ) e.g. You had Raw egg dish .. I like Raw eggs πŸ˜› but seems like You didn’t like !! Right? Your forehead lines express it.

  13. says: Julika

    I loved Strasbourg! One of the most gorgeous cities in Europe!
    I actually had the exact same experience with my French in Strasbourg. And I hated to be forced to speak German, because the German-French history is so biased there, and a lot of the older people are (legitimately) still hostile towards Germans…
    Nonetheless, Strasbourg is a wonderful destination!

  14. It’s funny to see how many of us Canadians seriously struggle with French after so many years of “French education”. I once tried to strike up conversation with a cabbie in Brussels and couldn’t find the words to respond to him properly in French (despite understanding what he asked). My wife, a quasi Franco-Ontarian, stepped in to thoroughly embarrass me and poignantly point out how woefully inadequate my French really was. I don’t think you are the only Canadian to feel this way, Audrey!

    I’m not sure if this is typical but I’ve run across a ton of people while travelling that assume we all speak French as our first language. Have any other Canadians noticed this?

  15. says: Suzzane from Travel Universally

    seems like The chef wanted you to make you eat the Food of his choice πŸ™‚ By the way , let me ask you a simple and worthy question, please don’t mind for that…. Did you say thanks and paid tip to the waiter for that Raw egg? πŸ™‚

  16. says: smile

    Nice try,,,

    Me too when I was in College, I had a French-Language Subject (actually its optional, It’s not required on my course). I had hard time to learn this language.. But still I passed it. hmm… maybe it’s hard for me ‘coz I don’t have French-tongue πŸ˜›

  17. says: Michelle

    Haha I know what you mean about not learning anything useful in Canadian high school French. I’m going to Strasbourg this weekend with another Canadian friend, so I’ll have to try to brush up on some French! (Hopefully I can get by speaking some German!)

  18. says: Abby

    That is hilarious! When I backpacked many moons ago, no one ever, ever, ever guessed we were Americans. We’d be walking down the street, and people would try to pass us fliers in Spanish, German, Italian, anything but English. Reading this brought back memories! PS I love that you have sisters!

  19. says: Ceri

    Hahaha, every one of my friends who visited me in Mexico and couldn’t speak Spanish did something like this. They just put on a Mexican accent and ended the word in “o”.

  20. says: John

    Yeah, I’ve been there. I studied abroad in France and it was rough at first until I started absorbing the language somehow (it just sort of happens – it’s kind of cool). Surprised you didn’t learn “poubelle” in school though – our trash bin in our classroom was always labeled that.

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