I am good at French and can me débrouiller (get by, solve problems, sort myself out) in a lot of situations. However, my listening comprehension fails me at odd moments because, unlike in English, I don’t always know what’s coming at me and thus cannot respond automatically. This phenomenon is difficult to describe. Think of all the interactions you have with people that require a response, but you’ve given that response so many times that you barely have to listen to the question before you give the answer. Of course, it’s possible to be TOO automatic:
Store clerk: How are you doing today?
Customer: Just looking!
Person who knows it is your birthday: Happy birthday!
You: Thanks, you too!
These are the kinds of interactions I’m talking about, especially the ones that happen in the world of retail where the clerk has to say the same thing 1,000 times per day and thus says it very quickly, not very clearly, and without necessarily looking straight at you. Here are a few that I’ve collected:
“Sur place ou emporter ?”
This phrase means “For here or to go?” and will be asked of you right after you place an order, anywhere “to go” is an option. Bonus: even in small cafés that mostly do takeout business, you will sometimes get real cups and saucers instead of paperware if you are having your coffee sur place.
“Vous avez le 0,05€ ?”
“Do you have the 5 cents?” This one happened to me this morning. I was buying something that cost 7,05€ with a 10€ note and the lady asked if I had 5 cents so she could give me back 3€. Unfortunately she asked me while looking down into her cash drawer and I had to ask her to repeat herself. People like it when you can faire l’appoint (make exact change), which I am almost always too lazy to do.
“Avez-vous une carte de fidelité ?”
“Do you have a loyalty card?” Just like in the U.S., businesses here have rewards cards, shopper’s cards, whatever you want to call them. I am always asked this at Carrefour, so I’ve gotten used to it. Sometimes (usually not at Carrefour where the cashiers are in a hurry) you will be offered one. I usually say “Non, merci; je n’habite pas ici.” (No, thanks; I don’t live here.”)
I think it’s strange that I can answer complicated questions (“What are you doing here in Paris?”) more readily than simple ones (“Do you want a small or a large?”). Language acquisition is a curious phenomenon.