School of Hard Knocks


Villard de Lans

I suppose that may seem a bit dramatic of me to say about a 2-week stint in a B&B in the French Alps, and I doubt many readers will be sympathetic with my plight, but hey that’s  the way I see it.  You see, Signe has studied French since about third-grade, and I just started.  Learning it is a passion for her, an inconvenience for me.   So, by way of her French-professor, Jackie, in Denver, Signe found out about a job working in a B&B in Villard de Lans, France, a small resort town in the Alps.  The deal is we work four hours a day helping with breakfast, laundry, and I think, cleaning the rooms on Saturday after the guests leave, and before the new ones check-in.  In exchange, we get free room, and breakfast, use of all the facilities, and TOTAL IMMERSION IN THE FRENCH LANGUAGE. 

Yes, I put that in caps.  Read it any way you like, as an extraordinary benefit well-worth the miniscule effort required to get it, or as a scream, a cry for help, a drowning man’s last gasp.  When we arrived on Saturday afternoon, I knew I was cooked, that is, totally without hope, screwed, and bereft of a paddle while a long way up the creek…..from the first minute I entered La Villa Primerose. 

There are basically two responses French people have to linguistically-challenged Americans.  The first is to slow their speech, rephrase statements in a simpler form, and check for understanding frequently.  The other is to proceed speaking as rapidly as possible with absolutely no regard for the look of sheer-terror and incomprehension on the face of the American to whom they are speaking.  Guess which kind our boss is.  To be fair, she has had several American students work here in the past.  All of them, I’m sure, much more intelligent than I, so they have arrived much better-prepared for the French boot camp than this American antique.

Saturday evening we were treated to dinner with a very nice couple of ladies who are friends of Madame Hostess.  My head nearly exploded from the effort.  On Sunday, we greeted guests,( the paying kind), and sat at the large table having breakfast and stumbling through introductions, and small talk about the United States, the Alps, vacations, jobs, etc.  I find I can understand much, much more than I can say, and if I think carefully, I can make myself understood most of the time.  The people here understand I am an idiot.  After cleaning-up the dining room and kitchen, we folded some laundry to the specifications de la Maison, and went to the Sunday market in the village.  We were also able to Skype with our son, Shane, Jessica, and the wonderful Mara, our delightful granddaughter.  They still love us.  We needed that




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