To you go abroad for your holidays? Do you take a small dictionary with you to help with your smattering of the language? Well, take care and, if possible, use a language dictionary with two sections to double check words before you plunge in feet first. Why? Well, this is a true story of what happened to one poor French lady who went shopping in London in the 1920`s.
My father worked in the London branch of a French firm, Dormeuil Frères. One of his French colleagues, recently married, had brought his wife over from Paris. Her command of the English Language was rather inadequate and the poor lady was feeling very miserable away from all her friends and family with little to do except write letters home. So, to try to cheer her up, her husband managed to get some tickets for a performance of a very popular opera showing at Convent Garden Opera House the following evening. The only problem was that their seats were up in the Gallery.
"Eh, bien, mon petite chou. Tu crois que tu pourras aller a les boutiques demain pour acheter des jumelles de théâtre?" [Well, darling, do you think you could manage to go to the shops tomorrow to buy some opera glasses?]. Hours of work in those days were much longer and he had no chance of getting to the shops himself.
So, the next day, our French lady arrives in Oxford Street and goes to a big store which her husband had said would be sure to have just what she wanted. But, no luck. Frustrated, she was forced to give up. So, she went to meet her husband in the evening and told him she had gone to "----" shop but that they didn't have any opera glasses. "That's ridiculous", replied her husband. "They must stock them - I saw some in the window! ". The wife explained that she had spoken to a young assistant in the shop and asked if he could give her some opera glasses. But he had just stared at her as if she was mad and had stuttered, "No, I can't help you, Madam". She had tried to ask him if he was sure he couldn't help as she needed them that evening but the young man had appeared to be very embarrassed and had rushed off to get the manager. The Manager was very polite, she said, but had told her very firmly that he was very sorry but they were unable to help.
The problem was that she had looked in the dictionary to translate the word "jumelles". As often happens, the word had more than one possible translation and she had chosen the short, easy word instead of the longer "opera glasses". What had she asked for? Well, no wonder the young shop assistant was embarrassed. She had said: "I want some twins. Can you give me some?"
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