Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One of two hippos that I encountered in France

I encountered two hippos during my trip to France last week. And both were delicious.

I encountered my initial hippo the day that I arrived in France. The hotel in which I was staying did not have a restaurant, so I had to seek out a place to eat lunch. Said establishment had to meet my criteria, including (a) it had to be within walking or bus riding distance, since I didn't have a car; (b) it had to accept American credit cards; and (c) there had to be a fairly good chance that I would be able to communicate with the wait staff in some manner. Luckily for me, the Port of Cergy offered several places that met these criteria, one of them being a branch of the Hippopotamus chain of restaurants.

Now I had come to France armed with Rick Steves' French Phrase Book & Dictionary. Rick Steves, if you haven't heard of him, has created a series of European travel videos, and his phrase book notes that he is a "monolingual speaker." For Steves that's a plus, since he believes that he has determined the bare essentials needed for communicating in Europe. In addition to providing some details on the French languages, Steves offered a little advice:

Never allow your lack of foreign language skills to isolate you from the people and cultures you traveled halfway around the world to experience.


Keep things caveman-simple. Make single nouns work as entire sentences ("Photo?"). Use internationally-understood words ("auto-kaput" works in Bordeaux). Butcher the language if you must. The important thing is to make the effort. To get air mail stamps, you can flap your wings and say "tweet, tweet." If you want milk, moo and pull two imaginary udders. Risk looking like a fool.

Well, I didn't have to pull any udders, but I could easily point to pictures on the menu to make my preferences known. And most of the waiters that I encountered, both at Hippopotamus and at the nearby Old English Pub, were able to communicate in English anyway.

For those who know me, my biggest challenge in eating at a French restaurant was to eat like a Frenchman. Again, let me turn to Rick Steves:

In France, slow service is good service (fast service would rush the diners.)

I just had to keep this in mind, kick back, and enjoy myself.

Should you find yourself in the port area of Cergy, Hippopotamus is at 8 Rue Jean Bart. The Old English Pub is across the way at 5 Rue Jean Bart. There are several other restaurants in the area, but I didn't have the time to visit all of them - for most of the week, I ate dinner at the office. But there was one exception - the other hippo...

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