I was travelling in France during a break from my graduate studies. One chilly October evening after spending the day at the Louvre, I joined two new acquaintances, Sarah, an American, and Gertrud, an Austrian, for a dinner outing on the Champs-Élysées.
We found ourselves seated next to a very nice German speaking couple, who were also out for a nice meal. In short order, we discovered that the couple had limited English but no French. Gertrud spoke German and some English, Sarah spoke English and little French. I speak fluent French, and enough German to get completely lost. Our Parisian waiter spoke French and expected the same from us.
As designated spokesperson, I helped order and keep things moving for everyone. Over dinner, some very creative multilingual conversation ensued, with lots of laughter, good wine and more food than we’d expected – my group had ordered mixed grill platters, which turned out to be enormous.
Gertrud had been travelling very economically on her own for some time, was determined to take the leftovers with her. This was in the mid-1970s, when asking restaurants to box up leftovers was not that common. I’d never seen it done in Quebec, nor yet in my European travels. Would the waiter be willing to package the leftovers or scorn us further as cultural cretins?
The leftovers were staring us in the face. How exactly *does* one express the thought “I’d like a “‘doggy bag’”? Did Europeans do this at all? I expressed the gist to our German friends “Ich wünsche sagen… “Ich habe ein Hund…” (I want to say…‘I have a dog’…) and they understood at once. So then I gathered my courage and successfully negotiated with the waiter for TWO bags “pour emporter” – without needing to bring up the imaginary dog.
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