Love Chunks and Sapphire often like to laugh at my tendency to use charades and sound effects in my conversations.
"For a writer, you rely a hell of a lot on acting out particular fart noises."
"Mum, did you really have to make that face to the post man?"
They claim that my whole family has this tendency and when we get together for big celebrations, there's a lot of 'Brrrrrrring' and 'Ppppphphtttttt' and 'Wockita whockita whockitas' being thrown into the mix. We understand each other completely and, if anything, this Read Family proclivity has served me pretty well as a non-French speaker (or comprehender) in la Suisse.
A few weeks back I was in the amusingly named XXX Sports Shop purchasing no, not porn, but three sets of cycling socks for LC. At the checkout, I'm always relieved when a 'Bonjour' whilst handing over my credit card is all the language skills I need.
The lady smiled at me and did her swiping thing when a huge wave of putrescent PONG swept us over both, the heat and strength making us both sway on our feet a little.
Her nostrils twitched slightly and all of a sudden she broke off eye contact with me, our shared smile now gone.
She thought that I had popped out a burst of flatulence so turgid that the sale posters were flapping up and down in the breeze. Now, it's a fair assumption that I do emit my share, but I'm always prepared to own up to them. But when it's not mine I'm far less willing to have it assigned to me. Besides, if I'd pushed out something this gaseous I'd be straight off to buy a new pair of pants before my appointment with the proctologist....
I was in a bind. The words for 'fart' and 'that old man who walked in behind me who is now browsing in the fishing gear section is the culprit' were way beyond me.
So I did what any member of the Read family would do and used my body and my voice to get my message across. Reaching to tap her arm, I said in French, "Non moi--------" and waved the air near my arse before pointing dramatically north, "------Il!"
Translation: No me...... HE!
I hopped on one leg, pinched my nose shut and violently shook my head. "Non Moi!"
She laughed, rolled her eyes at the Flatulent old Fart now holding up some hiking boots and bid me farewell. My reputation was safe.
But other occasions have also seen me rely on anything other than acceptable, clearly spoken words. Love Chunks works in a UN organisation where the official language is English, so most things are professionally-run, understood by everyone participating and no crossed wires occur.
Out in the real world, with drivers of mini-tractors full of compost who want you off the footpath, plumbers who apologise for being five minutes late and coffee shop ladies who detest all of their customers, it's more of a challenge to communicate.
Once again I found myself pointing to my own bottom, frantically fanning my hands around it in pantomimed disgust and shaking my head "NO" in order to get the concierge to understand that the lingering, dead-squirrel odour in Sapphire's unused bidet was not of our making.
I later discovered that grotesquely rubbing my stomach and screwing up my face before pointing to Milly and wrinkling up my nose was a good way to explain to the old lady who wanted to pat her that my dog had just run through the park and was covered in mud. "Orange, Madame, Orange," I said, pointing to a stripe on my top. "Milly is usually orange in colour and not the chocolate brown you see before you. Pat at your peril," my actions said.
Guillaime, our upstairs neighbour, joined me in the lift. With my hands forming a rectangular shape and my mouth emitting 'brrm brrrm' noises, he was made aware that we have a spare car parking space to rent. He nodded politely in that 'I don't know what the hell she's doing, but I'll let her talk so that I don't have to admit anything' kind of way before almost pushing me out when the doors opened to my floor.
At the chemist, I pointed to my shoulder and put on what I thought was a Meryl Streep-worthy sad face. "Ow," I groaned, my bottom lip folded over almost to the ground. "Chaud?"
"Hot?" Rubbing my shoulder, I continued to say, "Chaud?" and put on a smile to show that it would help me recover. Ten minutes later, I had a tube of Deutschland Deep Heat in my hands; exhausted after ten minutes of acting and not helped by the mother and toddler who wanted to 'help' the pharmacist guess my ailment.
Game show hostesses' gracious arm movements are another big help for this non-French speaker. "Yes, you can take the last tub of Quark," I say in English, sweeping my arm across the refrigerated cabinet in a 'Look at all these wonderful prizes' gesture of awe and generosity. The woman does, snatching it up and wheeling off before she has to thank the lunatic who let her.
Still, at the end of the day, I mostly end up completing my list of chores, buying the food we need and arriving home in one piece. Not, however, without a least one snigger.
Today's was at LaCoste; the over-priced polo tops with crocodiles on the pockets. A huge sign was in the window:
ACTION MAN SACS!*
Boy oh boy, who knew that they'd expanded their range that far?
* SALE MENS BAGS. Nowhere near as amusing to the locals who saw me bent over laughing.