Something I understood very well when taking holidays to France with my parents. All too often there would be some crazy tourist wandering around the little markets and shops in the town screaming English words in a French accent. Presumably in an attempt to help the locals understand what he or she was trying to say. It doesn't work.

If what I hear about people who live in tourist-y towns is correct, even fluent English speakers are likely to pretend not to understand you unless you make some effort. Declaring

I'd like two ice-creams. Two. Twooo.

at the top of your voice is unlikely to help.
It happens both ways, you know.

It was about eight o'clock in the evening, and I was waiting for a bus at Marble Arch to take me Oxford, where I was meeting my brother. It was cold and damp, and had been drizzling on and off all day. I was tired. It had taken me too long to find that stop. I was content to just stand, in a zombie like slumber till the bus arrived.

All of a sudden, a middle aged French woman, with her husband, dressed like they had just been to an opera, in an irritable mood, walk up to me, and impatiently demanded directions;

"Excusez-moi!" I didn't quite hear the full phrase, but it clearly ended "Le Metro".

'Where Am I? What’s going on? Who is this person standing in front of me? Why can't I understand what she is saying? What does she want of me?' was all I could think.

Faced with my blank expression, and what she clearly viewed as incomprehensible stupidity, she repeated, slowly and loudly, with simmering anger on her face, wet with drizzle, "LE METRO!"

'Oh my God, I've been kidnapped and taken to France! What am I going to do? Got to say something, or they'll attack me with loaves of bread shaped like phalluses, and drag me to the guillotine!'

"Erm, er..."

Luckily, another man waiting at the bus stop observed what was happening, and, whilst keeping a safe distance, informed the French couple, "Its over there", pointing down the road, to the north-west.

The Madame, grabbing her husbands arm, marched off, dragging him uncomfortably with her. When they had disappeared, another man at the bus stop pointing out to the first, "It’s just over here, isn't it?" pointing to the underground sign on the subway twenty yards in the opposite direction. The first man shrugged his shoulders. The bus arrived.

Had I been a little more awake, or had the French woman been a little more polite and patient, given a few more seconds my brain would have made the connection, "Metro is French for Underground". But even then, I was waiting for a bus, and wasn't sure where the nearest entrance to the tube was.

Let it be known - Britons are not the only ones who believe they can get what they want by shouting their own language in another country. And never forget, just because a foreigner gives you directions, doesn't mean he knows where the place you asked for is, or understood what you said in the first place.

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