Help! I’ve lost my tour group

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to Japan. There weren’t any of those language apps you see advertised now but I and the other members of the group I accompanied did manage to learn a few basic Japanese words and phrases. And I’m proud to say that all these years later, I can still count to ten and say hello, goodbye, thank you and octopus. Really.

I knew a little more back then, but not enough to keep from embarrassing myself. I still remember the way my host looked at me curiously when, instead of describing Tokyo as a big city, I called it a big dog. Still I think he appreciated my effort — or at least was entertained by it.

All of this comes back to me now because later this year my husband and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary in France. Mainly we’ll be with groups, so we could get by without knowing any French.

But we both downloaded a certain language app whose name I won’t mention since they’re not paying us to endorse them. We thought knowing a bit of the language would add to the experience as long as I don’t embarrass us both by calling Paris a big dog. My husband was once fluent in French so he downloaded the advanced version. I downloaded the beginner version. What I recall from my semester of college French is similar to what I remember of my Japanese — minus octopus. 

I do still remember one very useful French swear word but it’s probably best I don’t use it too much on our trip if I want to make a good impression on my fellow travelers.

We’ve both been practicing our French faithfully for months and I’m making great progress. I can now say “Hello. My name is Dorothy. I live in the United States. I adore my cat.” I can also say small cat, pretty cat and big cat but I have not yet learned how to say big dog, which is probably just as well.

I can ask the all-important question, “Do you speak English?” This is lucky because French is hard. For one thing, the French stick all sorts of extra, silent letters in their words just to throw off those of us trying to learn the language.

We English speakers would never do that. You could comb through this column until next Wednesday and I doubt you’d find any silent letters.

On the other hand, French has many words that are spelled the same and mean the same as their English counterparts including taxi, hotel, train, telephone, lion, crocodile and elephant.

They do pronounce them differently — which is to say, wrong. I’m kidding! But I think I’ll be understood if I say them our way. So if nothing else I’ll be able to ask for a taxi — or an elephant.

The French are known for their cuisine and I’m known for loving to eat. But so far, the only French food terms I know are peanuts, cheese, and olives. Woman cannot live on peanuts, cheese and olives alone. By the time we leave, I intend to learn to ask for something a little more substantial — like chocolate cake.

There’s so much more that I want to learn before we go. I can say wine, but I can’t say water yet. Some people might not see that as a problem. I can ask how much something costs, but I can’t understand the answer. I can say, “Where is the bathroom,” but I can’t say, “Help! I’ve lost my tour group.”

Dorothy Rosby is the author of Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Be Ticked off About, Humorous Essays on the Hassles of Our Time and other books. Contact her at