(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published July 1, 2001.)
What lies ahead for the European Union? This question is very much on the minds of concerned journalists looking for a way to take a tax-deductible vacation abroad. For this reason, I recently spent several weeks assessing the mood in a broad cross-section of Europe, ranging all the way from Paris, France, to several other parts of France.
I would say, based on this trip, that the biggest problem facing Europe today is that everything over there is hard to pronounce. Even the word ''France'' is pronounced as a different word entirely (''Fwonce''). But basically the mood of Europe is good, except when you order your food incorrectly, in which case Europe can get snippy. My family and I experienced this personally at a cafe in Paris called Le Mistral (French for ''The Snotty Attitude''), where we offended the waiter by committing the unforgivable blunder of existing. To make matters worse, when the waiter, after ignoring us for 15 minutes, reluctantly came to our table, I made the horrific faux pas (literally, ``hors d'oeuvre'') of attempting to order my food before I ordered my drink, if you can possibly imagine anything so gauche (French for ``American'').
The waiter was so offended that -- I am not making this up -- he tore up his order slip, spun around and walked away in what the French call ''une huffe.'' So we went to another cafe, where the waiter was very nice, and where we wrote, in what we hoped was French, a letter of complaint to the Le Mistral management.
Never miss a local story.
After our meal, we marched back into Le Mistral, where I handed the letter to the manager, who read it and handed it to the snotty waiter, who also read it. The three of us then had an argument. Unfortunately, we conducted it in French, which I have not studied since the 1960s. If you translated this argument into English, it would probably go something like:
MANAGER: What is the problem?
ME (pointing at the waiter): There is a duck in your elevator.
WAITER: I do not know what you are talking about!
ME (forcefully): Give me the fish of my uncle!
After several minutes of this, we marched back out, proud of having made our point. Meanwhile, back in Le Mistral, they probably laughed until tears fell into the bouillabaisse, and vowed to be even ruder to American tourists, in hopes of generating more linguistic comedy entertainment.
I found the European mood to be mellower in Provence (French for ``Province''), an extremely picturesque sector of southern France filled with picturesque houses and fields and little picturesque towns connected by winding roads upon which the French whiz around at speeds upwards of 17 million kilograms per hour in cute French cars the size of an Altoids tin.
Provence was once occupied by the Romans, who built picturesque ruins until their empire collapsed as a result of eating too much cheese. The same thing happened to us. We consumed cheese by the metric ton. We bought it at open-air markets, which are held in certain towns on certain days. The rest of the time, France is closed. (You think I'm joking.)
On market day, all the residents of Provence get into their Altoidsmobiles and whiz to the same town, where they form a massive traffic jam and park in every conceivable place, including on top of other cars. Then they walk around the market and buy delicious, inexpensive cheeses, sausages, breads, pastries, candies and other delicacies. Then they go home and throw all the food away. At least that's what I assume they do, because, despite living in Cholesterol World, they're all thin. The entire population of France weighs less than a standard American softball team.
But we tourists, not knowing the local customs, actually ate the food. Our schedule was: Eat, sleep, then go to the market again. Eventually, we had to tie our French rental car to a post so it couldn't flee when our bloated bodies lumbered toward it.
In conclusion, the European Union is an important issue that everyone should care about. I urge you to go over there and assess it for yourself. If you happen to eat at Le Mistral, and you happen to see a waiter who looks like a ferret with a mustache, and you happen to speak French, tell him, for me, that he has a duck in his elevator.
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