When Lauren and I were debating our options for transportation from the airport to our hotel in Paris, we weighed the factors of cost versus comfort with a generous thought given to jet lag and luggage. A taxi would be the easiest, but after having seen that movie Taken, I was leery of handing out our address to anyone who might prove to have a side business in human trafficking. Lauren squelched this concern immediately.
“We won’t let anyone else ride with us, and besides, we’re entirely too old to sell at this point.” While she made an excellent argument, her hearty offering of logic and reality simultaneously put my mind to rest and sucker punched my self-esteem. The only thing worse than being at risk for the slave trade is being exempt from it due to no precautions that you’ve undertaken other than those assigned by Father Time. So a taxi it was.
The man behind the wheel spoke no English, and in order to uphold the obnoxious American stereotype, we knew a grand total of 20 words in French. He nodded vigorously when we showed him the address and map that Lauren had printed, but once we were strapped into the backseat and careening along the freeway, he began to lose confidence in his former assertions.
“Idhendixu. Ostend icdd wiogn jdidhebndi.” He locked eyes with me in the rearview mirror and seemed to expect feedback.
“Pardon?” One word down, 19 more at my disposal.
“Ieurni unenttding noisierdjicuebeiejdbdidj.” Hmm. We’d never get anywhere if he kept repeating himself like this. I smiled and shrugged, and he understood that other measures were necessary. He waved the map and printed address in the air and turned his body halfway in the seat to get a better look at me. I guess the functioning premise here is that French suddenly becomes comprehensible with eye contact.
“Gdjdirjrb odidndj hdueidn,” he needed both hands for pointing so the one he was using for the steering wheel deserted its post. He seemed deeply concerned by the zip code in the address, so he jabbed at it several times, said “No, no, no!” and then waved his index finger back and forth while shaking his head. It was at this juncture that we almost sideswiped a bus. Another taxi to the right of us got an entire day’s quota from their horn, but our driver was unruffled. Thanks to many years spent in SE Asia, I didn’t even blink. If there was one thing I had learned in Indonesia, you never used the words “close call” since there was no such thing. You either creamed someone or you didn’t. No need even to mention a near miss or you’d spend your entire day yakking about traffic.
“What do you think is wrong?” Lauren asked.
“He seems to think the address is incorrect for our hotel. He keeps pointing to another part of the map for where he thinks it should be.” That’s another thing about my Indo training. After having learned an entire language on the ground from scratch, I was efficient at interpreting meaning without understanding individual words. Or even entire paragraphs.
“Well, there is another hotel from that chain across town, but I hope he doesn’t take us there. It’s in the red light district from what my guide book said.”
Hey, peachy. Nothing like arriving on the doorstep of a brothel at 7am with suitcases. Two fresh American imports reporting for duty.
Our driver realized just how useless we were, so he got on his phone and started chatting with people who obviously had access to satellite feeds and GPS equipment. He flipped through a book of maps about the thickness of the Washington, D.C. phone book and located our zip code while weaving in and out of morning traffic. We tried to snag a motorcycle as a hood ornament a couple of times, but twenty minutes later, we pulled up to the right spot. And thankfully, there were no red lights in sight.
© 2013 – Traci Carver