30th March 2011, 19:00~20:00
Alcohol content: 5.2%
Embarrassing situations avoided: 1
Le Marine in Liege is just over the road from Etap Liege, and is the only place on the street to get a meal. The place has a nautical theme, reflected in the website, menu and the name of the restaurant itself. This is enthusiastically pursued in the decor too – there is a manikin of a pirate, model boats and the walls are covered in sea-charts.
The world’s Francophones, of course, have no way of knowing that I studied French for five years. Not by looking at me, and certainly not by listening to my attempts at their language. But deep down, I know that I’ve studied French and I’ve had it drummed into me that I should really have a go.
No such guilt in Germany or Spain.
And despite French-speakers being our closest neighbours and French being the one language we all have to tackle at some point in our academic careers, I still think there is something absurdly foreign about the pronunciation that you don’t get in Italian or German. Maybe Chinese is more foreign, but only just.
It’s like you have to completely throw yourself into the French character or the whole enterprise falls flat. You can’t just test the water with some soft-spoken anglicised approximations. It’ll get you nowhere. No. You have to either do the accent or not even bother.
So it was that I found myself dithering towards the end of the meal, unable to remember how to ask for the bill. The waiter knew I was ready to leave. He would probably have understood if I had asked in English. The empty plate and the drained glass provided all the context anyone in the waiter trade could possibly need to fathom what my next requirement might be.
I toyed with getting another beer to delay the moment.
In the end, I waited until the waiter had moved to the other side of the room. Once there, I could do the air-scribble mime, internationally understood to mean “the bill, please”, and perfectly acceptable when the waiter is more than 20 feet away.
Post-script: L’addition s’il-vous plait…