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murphblog: Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Several of my coworkers speak Spanish fluently and one speaks Italian so I decided to brush up on my high school French to pick up the slack with our customers and because if you can speak with them in their native tongue they buy lots, lots more stuff.

Gee, I'd forgotten how hard French is and how totally inadequate trying to speak it with someone fluent makes me feel. How do they remember all that. My coworker who is fluent in both Italian and Spanish said she gave up on French, it was just too hard. It's a game and I'm not good at games.

My late friend Aymon de Roussy de Sales was the great, great, great great ... nephew of St. Francois de Sales, the most popular saint in France. His father, Raoul, was a well-known American correspondent for French newspapers who also wrote a follow-up to Hitler's Mein Kampf but Aymon didn't speak a word. He simply refused to learn it even after he married a French woman. Ironically, when I was browsing Learning French books at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble one of the books I picked up was by R. de Roussy de Sales, who is probably a relative by Aymon's first wife.

St. Francis de Sales has been a running motif for me the last year or so. When I walked across the footbridge from Wards Island one of the first landmarks is The Church of St. Francis de Sales, which seemed to be a good omen at the time. I joked that I was afraid to go in and light a candle for Aymon because he might strike me dead from where ever he ended up. Then, when I looked at this place before moving in and had second thoughts about moving to Bed-Stuy (even though it's really Prospect Heights or, perhaps, Crown Heights, depending upon who you talk to) when I walked to the subway at Franklin Avenue then decided to walk a little more to the museum and library I passed the St. Francis de Sales Shool for the Deaf on Eastern Parkway and that settled it for me. Aymon or his sainted family must be looking out for me.

It is easier to speak another language if you don't worry about getting the grammar right, and my French customers are so happy and surprised to hear an American say Bonjour, comment allez-vous? they forgive me when I massacre the language. At least I now know how to describe the 11% discount they can get for being tourists, which is all they really care about anyway. Unfortunately, the French, like the Germans, don't buy a lot but tend to buy as a sample act of patriotism. The Spanish and the Italians buy Lacoste by the armload because, if they have money, they love to spend it and make sure you know it. If only some of that would rub off on the Chinese who almost always take a hour to decide after opening every shirt then, a week later, return what they bought.