I’m giving myself a gold star.
I’ve managed the entire transatlantic flight speaking only French. Yay me! Or should I say oui, moi! Pretty sure that’s not an official saying, but whatevercakes. Either way, I’m rocking it in the speak-French-or-die department.
I’ve rattled off my s’il vous plaits and mercis like a native speaker, and I’m about to break out an even fancier request as the flight attendant strolls by offering the last round of beverages.
“Would you like something?” she asks in French.
I’ve checked my app. The words are on my tongue for fizzy water. “Je voudrais l’eau avec bulles.”
With a pinch to her lips, the angular flight attendant arches a brow. “Excusez-moi?”
Oops. I bet bubbles was the problem. Maybe my app went a little too literally when I looked up that word. I try to talk around the confusion, to explain what I want, when I remember something I read in a travel blog once about how the French order still versus sparkling water.
I snap my fingers and smile, going for it in a whole new direction. “L’eau avec gaz.”
Water with gas.
I snicker to myself. The French call the sparkling variety of water gassy.
The flight attendant blinks.
I say it again, louder this time, prompting the kindly old couple in front of me to whip their heads around. Doesn’t faze me. I’m naturally loud. That isn’t the first time someone’s blanched in surprise at my volume, nor will it be the last.
The blonde twig smiles sympathetically and says, “Of course, mademoiselle. I will bring you a Perrier.”
Le sigh. She spoke to me in English. Cue the disappointment track.
But hey, I’m a mademoiselle at least. So, obviously I’m still winning at life.
When she brings the drink, it’s delish. Not gassy at all, so I’m coming out ahead in the drink department, too. Optimism, thy name is moi.
Thirty minutes later, the loudspeaker crackles and an authoritative voice booms throughout the jetliner. “We are nearing Charles DeGaulle airport,” the pilot intones, and a spate of nerves flutters up my chest. But I ignore them because I’m ready for this adventure no matter how daunting the drink ordering may be.
My seatmate in 2A, a lovely lady in a pink-checkered suit, smelling faintly of Obsession and tweed, shoots me a caring smile. “Is this your first time in Paris?”
She speaks in English with the most delightful French accent. Her lips are freshly glossed, like she slicked some on moments ago. Otherwise, she wears little makeup, and her hair is clipped in a loose but immaculate bun.
“I was supposed to visit a year ago for vacation . . .” I say, my voice trailing off. But I don’t want to get into why that trip never transpired. She lifts an eyebrow, waiting for my answer, perhaps wondering, too. I return to my cheery side. “That didn’t happen and that’s A-OK. But I’ve always wanted to go. I wish I had studied abroad. It’s one of my great regrets that I didn’t.”
“And now you can remedy that regret with a visit.”
I nod. “I’ve been taking French lessons and reading all the guidebooks.” Though, in fairness, I memorized nearly every one a year ago, it seems. I pored over photos on Instagram and pictures from French food bloggers, devouring everything I could unearth on Paris. “The city has always seemed magical to me, the places, the shops, the river.”
“Paris can indeed be a magical city. And is this a holiday for you?”
I can’t believe I’m about to utter the next words, because I can still barely believe they’re true. “I’ll be working in Paris. That’s why I’ve been speaking French to the flight attendants. To practice.”
Her brown eyes are warm, and they twinkle in a friendly way. “Then, next time say De l'eau gazeuse or eau pétillante. That’s what we call water with bubbles. Sparkling water.”
“Ohhhhhh. Information that would have been handy an hour ago,” I say, smacking my forehead playfully. “I bet the flight attendant thinks I’m a typical unrefined American.”
“No. Of course not. I’m sure she appreciates the effort.”
“I try,” I say in French.
A gentle smile is her response. It crinkles her face. Wrinkles line her forehead, but they’re soft, like the rest of her.
“It is good to attempt the language,” she tells me. “And how long will you stay?”
I shrug happily. “I’m not sure. For now, it’s a relocation. My company is sending me to Paris to work on a new project.”
“Je suis excitée!” I say, trotting out more of my French.
The woman shakes her head. “No,” she says as a faint blush crosses her cheeks. She drops her voice lower. “That means you are excited.”
“But I am.”
Her brown eyes widen, and she waves her hand over her lap. “Down there.”
My mouth forms an O. “Well, shame on me,” I say, and she laughs. “That’s not appropriate at all. What would I say instead?”
“It depends. If you’re excited to see someone, if you’re excited to eat a croissant, if you’re looking forward to something . . .” She makes a rolling gesture with her hand, inviting me to fill in the rest.
“Personally, I’m excited for all croissants. I think they’re proof that people weren’t meant to eat a gluten-free diet. Like, ever.”
She laughs lightly. “Carbs are divine. So, you are definitely looking forward to croissants in Paris.”
“I am.” I flash a bright smile. I’ve been told my smile occupies all the real estate on my face. I attribute this to being from Texas. We do everything supersize. “I’m looking forward to my new life in Paris.”
She smiles and translates into her language. I repeat her words.
She hums, a soft little sound. “Paris is a good place for a new life. I believe Paris is where you go to reinvent yourself.”
A few years ago, reinvention was the last thing I’d imagined wanting. I was content with a capital C.
Now, it’s what I need most.
As the jet descends, I find that I am well and truly excited—not down there, but here, in my chest, in my heart—for what lies ahead.
Mostly because it’s just that. Ahead.
The past belongs to yesterday.
When the wheels touch the tarmac, I bid yesterday a silent and final adieu.