Taking the train back from Auxerre the other day I got a live French lesson. Sitting across from us was a young tough guy, about twenty, wearing a permanent sneer and blocking the aisle with his legs. Originally he was sitting across from a pretty young woman, but after he wouldn't leave her alone she got up and moved.

So we're cruising along for a few minutes and suddenly the guy lights up a cigarette. French trains have been non-smoking for several years. I'm a non-confrontational wuss, particularly in French, but this pissed me off. Here's how the conversation went (in French, unless noted).

Excuse me sir, but this is a non-smoking train.
This place is non-smoking.
grunt, sneer
(English) What, are you just an ass? You can't smoke here.
leer. I can't understand you.
(French) See the sign? Non smoking. Do you understand it?
You cannot smoke here.
storms off, swearing
My accent is so awful it's immediately obvious I don't speak much French. I think the game he was playing was to pretend he couldn't understand me, so the fault was mine. Turning the question around on him fixed that; he could hardly admit he didn't understand the sign. Either that, or my increasingly loud voice was attracting more attention than he wanted.

Anyway, off he went to smoke somewhere else. Next to a grandma, who also told him off. He jumped off the train at the next stop. And me? Apparently I know enough French to stare down a punk.

  2006-10-28 08:32 Z