Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good afternoon, Napoleon.

Once I walked into a little shop in Orvieto and announced "grazie" to two very confused sales clerks. No context — just this goofy American feeling overly confident with her newly-acquired four-or-five word Italian vocabulary, and stuttering out a completely incorrect greeting.



Cursed with blushing, I turned around, exited.
Once outside, I nearly fell down laughing.

And then there was that bakery in Paris, when I was twenty, that I visited daily for my croissants and baguette. Desiring something sweet, I asked for a Napoleon. The crowded boulangerie suddenly became very quiet, and the girl behind the counter delivered an arch glare.

What? Did I say something wrong?

She looked me in the eye and said, "Il est mort."
Whereupon loud bursts of laughter erupted from everyone in line.

"Mille feuille," she said, "a thou-sand-leaves."

I'd just ordered a dead emperor.


  1. I recall a story my friend Carolyn Street told decades ago about sitting on a Parisian park bench with only a baguette and asking (in her bad French) the fellow on the other end, who was lunching on a salami, if he wanted to put his meat in her bun. Fortunately he was amused and understanding.

  2. ah first time in
    paris i was running late to catch a train and couldnt figure out if I was going in the right direction for the train station. i stopped an elderly man, and said, mispronouncing loudly, "ou est la gare? ou est la gare?"
    he glared at me silently for a minute, then finally declared grimly: "La guerre est fini!"

  3. Susan, laughing out loud here!!!

  4. there is the advantage in traveling to English-speaking countries only...but then again, Paris probably has the best dead emperors, so there you go.

  5. Tara, "Best Dead Emperors" would make a great band name.