I am always on the lookout for language moments, those interactions with foreigners where I can pepper them with questions, preferably in their native tongue. And today, I ran into a Swiss guy who ran a small, outdoor deli. He sold chickens and ribs at our local farmer’s market. His food was not cheap, but it was delicious.
I chatted with him, trying to work my rusty French in. As a Swiss citizen, he spoke Romansh. (Funny wiki-ism on Romansh: Romance language descended from the Vulgar Latin spoken by the Roman era occupiers of the region.) And since he grew up near Italy, he spoke Italian. And German. But less French. So our conversation was mostly English.
Today, he had a pal, a paratrooper for 15 years in the French Army, assisting him with sales. I got the impression that retirement was at 15 years for the French when he asked me how close I was to my fifteen years. I told him we retire at twenty years or more. (Very easily, this could have been a language misunderstanding. They’ve been known to happen.)
What do you do now? I asked him in a mixture of French and English.
I did bodyguard work in Paris. Where I am from. For the Saudis. And I was supposed to work with the SEALs out here.
Go for it. That is good work.
I don’t have my tickets.
You are not an American citizen?
No, I am. Dual citizen, he said proudly. I just don’t have my teeeekeeeets. (The best I could ascertain was that he was referring to a security clearance of some sort.)
We somehow started chatting about martial arts and he asked me what I did. I told him and he assured me that any smart work is better than something physical. You get out of shape. I had a friend want me to do Foreign Legion work. ‘Zay are crazy, you know?
Oui oui, je sais, I said, nodding. I know. I saw the Bear Grylls special on the French Foreign Legion, Escape to the Legion.
It was good to talk to a Parisian, un Parisien, who did not have that attitude. Wishing the guys well, I wondered if a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) job may be in my future. Me, a diplomat? Be scared, be very scared. . .