I tend to go armed with my phone and Google Translate, but also with paper and pen. As literal translations from English to French often don’t work, most salespeople are willing to play a game of ‘what am I drawing?’
Except the time I was trying to find some thin wire to assemble a wreath…the sales guy did not understand English and I had forgotten the phone. He kindly suggests drawing a picture. I giggle and draw a squiggly line, realizing I’m going to need to launch into a game of charades. He momentarily thinks I’m nuts. Then we really get going…we’re standing next to rope. I tell him it’s like rope, but metal. We go through the plumbing section, the tool section, and land in the electrical wire section. My eyes light up and I point to the coils of wire, but I want something thinner, ‘Moins épais.’ When he realizes they’re out of stock on the thin stuff, the light bulb goes on and we make it to an end cap in gardening where he proudly presented me with a roll of the perfect wire for 50 centimes! Voilà! Now, every time he sees me in the store he covers his eyes and laughingly shakes his head.
This is at the Bricorama in our little town. Larger stores in Bergerac have computer terminals throughout the store and salespeople offer up a Google Search window to get an image of what the hell you’re asking for. This is very useful, but our daily trips are to see my friend here in town!
Then there’s the local pro brico store, where we were fortunate enough to get a personal introduction from our French plumber. The manager opened a corporate account for us, along with a built-in 20-30% discount. We pay monthly. And we’re treated like a king and queen when we visit. All the sales people come around from the counter and shake our hands (I guess they’ve seen our end of the month statements!!!)
My French noun vocabulary is strongest in house-related terms, not surprisingly, but maybe ‘strength’ is not quite accurate either!! After over-depending on GT and doing my best to pronounce the product as clearly as possible, when met with THE BLANK STARE, I hold up my phone horizontally, displaying the French phrase in huge back letters on a blue screen. Words any idiot can read, right? Yesterday I was looking for a drill bit and asked this young guy for help. He started to chuckle, shrugged his shoulders, then proceeded to tell me that was NOT the french translation. That it meant (pointing at his crotch) in French. Oops! All I could do was pretend-spank my phone and say, “Bad Google Translate! Bad!” We all had a good belly laugh about that one. And so it goes, just another day in paradise…