22 May 2016

Tapped Out

by Leigh Lundin

In the shadow of John’s popular article yesterday, I’ll add a small footnote about language misunderstandings.

I worked in Europe, mostly in France. I love the country and to clear up a misconception, the French are polite, very polite. Some Parisians may not tolerate fools gladly, but neither do New Yorkers, Londoners, or Romans. There, got that off my chest.

A gentle but all too true joke that goes around:
Q. What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
A. Trilingual
Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A. Bilingual
Q. What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A. American
French Lesson

During my second or third major stint overseas, I traveled through France with a French colleague, Micheline. (If you read R.T. Lawton’s excellent short historical stories set in France, he consulted with Micheline on at least one occasion.)

One particular day after landing in Lyon, we checked into our respective hotel rooms. If you haven’t noticed (and I know you have), design is important to the French and this was reflected in the fancy bathroom fixtures. The sink didn’t display obvious faucet handles. It’s not uncommon to find taps with photoelectric eyes or motion sensors, but waving my hand under the spout did nothing.

I felt around and finally discovered hidden levers behind the faucet that turned on the water. Mystery solved.

Usually at a destination, we’d rent a car but in Lyon, another coworker, Max, picked us up. Max was possibly the scariest driver I’ve ever ridden with. My grasp of French hovered only a little above zero, so I rode in the back seat and tuned out Max and Micheline as they caught up on gossip and news. Suddenly Max would turn to me– turn his body 180° from watching the road– and chat.

I’d find myself screaming, “Truuuuck,” trying to remember the French word for huge-damn-transport-vehicle-rushing-at-us-oh-God-we’re-going-to-crash (camion). But all in all, Max was a charming host and we had a good time. Especially when…

Max and Micheline were talking and I tuned out of the conversation. Suddenly, Micheline turned to me.
“Leigh, when we get back to the hotel, I want to see your cock.”


As you might imagine, this happens frequently, but it was my first request in France.

“When we return to the hotel, I want you to show me your cock.”

“Er, are you sure?”

The denseness of her American friend caused a shadow of doubt to cloud her face.

“Please, when we get back, show me your cock.”
She hadn’t even bought me dinner, but by now, we both realized something was wrong. Micheline handed me her pocket French-English dictionary opened to the entry “robinet”.

wine barrel © Dave Di Biase
I pieced together what happened. As Micheline chatted with Max, she mentioned not figuring out how to operate the water tap in her room… she couldn’t find the handles. Max suggested she ask me, so she looked up the French robinet in her dictionary, which showed cock and spigot (but oddly not faucet, a French derivative). She chose the easier to pronounce and, well, you heard the conversation.

Afterwards, as folks say on the internet, hilarity ensued.

Images © Dave Di Biase, FreePik.com


  1. That's awesome. Reminds me of the time a waitress asked if I wanted sodomy. Turned out she was asking if I wanted some more tea.

  2. Yikes, Dixon! They didn't tell you about the special!

    What part of the world were you in? I imagine you had a good laugh with that one.

  3. Love the riddle that opened this! I only wish it wasn't so true! (I have many colleagues worldwide and it's really embarrassing that all of them speak 2 or 3 languages except us Americans.)

  4. Thanks, Anon. I'm in a similar position.

    I had two years of a foreign language in my tiny high school… Latin. You can imagine how useful that is!

  5. The English comedian Benny Hill had some funny skits about language misunderstandings. Sometimes it's amazing we don't have more wars when foreigners try to speak each other's language.

  6. In a way, there’s a war of misunderstanding going on now with the Algonquin word for wife or mature woman, ‘squaw’. As settlers moved Westward, apparently a few misused or at least miscomprehended the word.

    My mother could trace her Indian ancestry far back and descendants were raised with tales and an ethos of what was expected of us. My parents were extremely offended that people with no knowledge of First Nations vocabulary wanted to remove the word squaw from the language and historical record. They felt the culture was under attack, not using bows and arrows, but slings and arrows (in the Hamlet sense) from the mad, mad politically correct who care not about accuracy or history, but that someone claimed offense.

  7. A Broad Abroad22 May, 2016 19:48

    Your tale is certainly something to crow about! (Sorry, couldn't resist)

    An aside in honour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, some interesting snippets about Sherlock Holmes.

  8. Thanks, ABA, but don’t egg me on. How kind of you settle upon yet another meaning.

    And thanks for the Sherlock Holmes Day link. They should have sent a Baker Street Irregular to my door!

  9. Leigh, hysterical. Thanks for sharing!


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