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It Takes A Lot Of Gaul

One of the most useless classes I ever took in high school, ranking right up there with calculus, was French.I took several years of French, and I learned hundreds of phrases, not one of which I would ever actually want to say to anybody.For example, my French teachers insisted that when I met a French person I should say Comment allez-vous?It turns out that this means How do you go? which is not the kind of thing you say when you want to strike someone as being intelligent.Your average French person already thinks most Americans are idiots, and youre not going to improve his opinion much if you barge up to him on some Paris street and start spewing high school French phrases:

YOU: Comment allez vous?(How do you go?)

FRENCH PERSON: Je vais A pied, evidentment.Vous devez avoir les cerveaux dune truite.(I go on foot, obviously.You must have the brains of a trout.)

YOU: est la bibliothque?(Where is the library?)

FRENCH PERSON: Partez, sil vous plait.Jai un fusil.(Please go away.I have a gun.)

My wife didnt do any better in high school French.She learned to say Je me suis casse la jambe (I have broken my leg) and Elle nest pas jolie (She is not pretty).What on earth is she supposed to do with these phrases?I mean, suppose she does go to France and break her leg:

MY WIFE: Je Me suis casse la jambe.(I have broken my leg.)

FRENCH BYSTANDERS: Cest dommage.(What a pity.)

MY WIFE: Elle nest pas jolie.(She is not pretty.)

FRENCH BYSTANDERS: Bien, excusez-nous pour vivre.Vous netes pas un grand prix vous-meme.(Well, excuse us for living.You are no great prize yourself.)

My wife would never get an ambulance that way.Shed be lucky if the bystanders didnt spit on her.

Despite the fact that the teacher insisted on making me speak like a fool, I stuck with high school French, because at the time the only alternative was Latin, which is even more worthless.For one thing, everybody who speaks Latin is dead.For another thing, all you ever read in Latin class is Caesars account of the Gallic Wars, in which Caesar drones on and on about tramping around Gaul.These had to be the dullest wars in history, which is why finally the Romans got so bored that they let the empire collapse and quit speaking Latin.In fact, they gave up on spoken language altogether, and today their descendants communicate by means of hand gestures.

When I got to college, I briefly considered taking Chinese or Russian, but abandoned this notion when I discovered that the Russians and the Chinese use Communist alphabets.I also rejected German, because it is too bulky.For example, the German word for cat is

einfuhrungaltfriesischenspraakuntworterbuchgegenwart.It can take up to two days to order lunch in German.

The result of all this is that I know very little of any foreign language, and what I do know is either useless or embarrassing.Most Americans are in the same situation.Fortunately, you dont really need another language, because, as you know if you have ever traveled abroad, virtually all foreign persons speak English.In fact, I sometimes suspect that there are no foreign languages, that foreign persons really speak English all the time and just pretend to speak foreign languages so they can amuse themselves by conning dumb American tourists into saying things like How do you go?

So if you plan to travel abroad, you should not waste your time learning some foreign language that could well turn out to be fraudulent. Instead, you should practice pronouncing, in a very loud, clear voice, certain useful English phrases for travelers.Here are the main ones:

Do you speak English?

Thank God.Where can I find a bathroom?

Is that one of those bathrooms where you wind up standing on some street corner in a structure that offers no more privacy than a beach umbrella?

Thank God.Will the bathroom have a squat female attendant who will watch my every move lest I leave without giving her a tip, even though the bathroom has obviously not been cleaned once since it was built by Visigoths more than twelve thousand years ago?

Thank God.Say, you speak pretty good English, for a foreign person.

These phrases will take care of your basic needs abroad, and the fact that you have taken the time to learn to pronounce them loudly and clearly will leave a lasting impression on your foreign hosts.

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