Je suis desolé, mais…

Some French words that look like English words can be very misleading. Take for example, “Je suis desolé”. I really hoped I would never have to utter those words in French. They sound so last-ditch. I could perhaps imagine myself saying I’m desolated that I smashed my rental car into a tree, but it would be very difficult using those words if all I did was step on someone’s foot or bounced a cheque. Perhaps this explains why the French would sooner shrug than apologize – evidence of a shortcoming in their language.

Europeans are so much more conscious of saving energy than North Americans. In public places, such as restaurant lavatories, lights are on timers giving you a couple of minutes to do your business illuminated before having to fumble in the dark. This is also true of hallways in hotels, which is a bit of a hazard given the uneven floors and stairs. As I was leaving my hotel room I bounded down the stairs in the dark (hey, I’m practically a native now) only to miss a stair. Had I not been quick, I might have pitched down a couple of flights, but as it was, I grabbed the handrail using the same hand I was using to hold my plastic key card and caused the key to nearly crack in two. The remaining four flights gave me the time to compose my best French so I could explain to the concierge what had happened to the key. “Excusez-moi monsieur, mais j’ai tomber sur les escaliers et cette clé est cassé.”

Then the heavens parted and I got to say it… “Je suis desolé”. I half expected the concierge to look at me like I was mad, but he just smiled and said that it was not a problem and the key could be fixed.