I’ve finally cracked how to ask for ‘une baguette’ without getting any comeback from the girl behind the counter. Okay it’s taken me about six months to work it out – but building up confidence in your first foreign language takes time!
The first lesson was that it’s ‘une’ not ‘un’, and on the back of this revelation I thought my bread-buying troubles would be over. Not so. It seemed no matter how loudly or clearly I said ‘une’, nine times out of ten I’d still be met with perplexed expression. What was I doing so wrong that meant I had to resort to hand signals half the time?
Then as I was ordering one day it hit me. Possibly due to a dry larynx I failed to pronounce the first syllable of my usual line, and I had simply said “baguette s’il vous plait” to the girl behind the counter. But, for the first ever time, she turned picked up ONE baguette, wrapped it and handed it to me without batting an eyelid or looking remotely confused. It was like watching a miracle in slo-mo.
What had I been doing wrong all this time? Simple – I hadn’t been pouting. I’d been saying ‘une’ without pushing my lips forward. It didn’t matter how well I was pronouncing it, without my lips pushed out like some retarded chimpanzee, I was never going to be understood by one of the locals. With a pout – the sound is a given “oo” – whether you hear the sound or not.
Which raises the question – do French people actually listen with their ears – or do they just watch your lips move?