It was Saturday morning and our 4 day trip was drawing to a close. We had to be back in Brussels by 9AM Sunday but I still wanted to see the D-Day Beaches of Normandy. That would mean driving about 3 hours northwest from Paris up to the Cherbourg peninsula, then when we were done sightseeing, starting another 7 hour drive east to Brussels - but we were up to it.
In the past three days, we had been in three countries, with three currencies. My pants pockets contained loose change - French Franks left front, Belgium Franks right front, and Dutch Guilders left rear. There were several tolls along the expressway from Paris to Cherbourg - I would just reach in my pocket, grab all the change, and hold it out to the toll taker, trusting that they would take the appropriate amount. They usually seemed a bit surprised, but they would take what they needed, show it to me in their hand (to show they weren't cheating me - but heck, I didn't know anyway), and finally, when they smiled, I drove on. Later, I found out you could insert your credit card and the machine would automatically charge your account.
I must say, our experience
with the French people was very pleasant. I have a very limited French
vocabulary, but nearly everyone was willing to try - if people really want
to communicate, language barriers can be overcome. Our map had different
route numbers than the road we were on so near Caen, we stopped to get
directions. I approached an elderly gentleman just getting
out of his car. It's a funny thing, maybe it's something in our brain
that leads us to believe that when two people are trying to communicate
in different languages,
we think if we talk v e r y s l o w l y the other person will magically understand our language.
Me: W h i c h w a y t o S t. M è r e É g l i s e?
Him: Blank stare - a brief pause. J e n e p a r l e z p a s a n g l a i s.
(I don't speak English) - followed by a smile.
The smile gave me hope. I pointed to the map. Caen ici. (Caen here.) I point again, St. Mère Église, followed by a look of desperation.
"Ah, St. Mère Église!" He looks down the road, and starts making a big circle motion with his hands, "Cercle, Cercle."
I nod, indicating my understanding.
Next, he points off to the west - "Cherbourg, Cherbourg."
Merci. I think we both
enjoyed the moment.
Back into the car, down the road to the traffic circle, there was the sign to Cherbourg and we were on our way again. In another 30 minutes, we reached our destination, St. Mère Église.