Phrase of the week-13 January 2012

Je vous ecoute

The first time I heard this expression I was sitting at a café and the waitress came up to my table and said “Je vous ecoute”. That’s it. Just those three words and just stood there waiting for me to say something. No,“Vous desirez quelques choses?” or “Vous avez choisi?” Nope. Now, of course, being a native English speaker I quickly made a literal translation to just, “Yaah, I’m listening to you” (I put the yaah in there just cuz that’s how it seemed) and took it as something pretty abrasive to say to a customer. To add to it the waitress didn’t really seem all that thrilled to be there that day so I ended up chalking it up to her not having a terrific day. Okay, no problem. I’ve had those days myself.

I don’t think that in my wildest dreams I would walk into a restaurant in The States and the waitress/waiter would walk up to my table and only say “I’m listening to you”. I’m not sure that would go over  too well.

Well, since then I’ve been to several restaurants and café’s where waiters/waitresses have said this so I guess it just must be the phrase to say and it’s not rude after all. Sometimes for us foreigners, it’s just hard to tell. I have slowly become accustomed to hearing it and now it doesn’t seem rude to me.

It’s kind of along the same lines as when you’re in a store and you’re at the check-out and when you go to leave the cashier says, “Allez. Au revoir”. The first time I heard that I was like dang they’re saying “go! bye!” as in, “get the heck outta my store”! Of course, I was jumping to conclusions, but it took me forever to figure out that this was not rude to say. At the time, it just seemed rude for some reason to me.

Well the other day, when I was at the market at the check-out, the cashier says to me as I rolled the basket pass the counter trying to empty its contents, “Je vous ecoute”. Now I just stopped and stared at her cuz 1) this is the first time I had ever heard this while not being in a restaurant and 2) I wasn’t ordering anything so I didn’t know what to say. Therefore, I just stood there looking at her with a confused look on my face (you know, the deer in the headlights kind of thing).  A couple seconds went by and I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to emptying my cart.

Well she says to me again “Je vous ecoute”. At this point, I kind of frowned, thought about it, and then just said the first thing that came to my mind while looking straight at her which was, “Bonjour”, thinking that I forgot to say it and didn’t want to be rude.

Then she said back, “Bonjour, je vous ecoute”. What the heck! Was I on a hidden camera show! What did she want me to say? Then as she saw that I had no clue what was going on, she finally said, “Combien bouteille de l’eau?” as in, “How many bottles of water do you have?”. Ohhhh, that’s what she was waiting for!

See I had a few water bottles in my cart and I hadn’t yet got to the point of putting them on the conveyer belt. Normally I buy a few of those heavier 6 packs and I peel off the bar code, give it to the cashier and tell him or her how many I have without them asking. This time I only had a couple of bottles so I was just going to put them up there for her to scan through. They weren’t heavy and it was easy to have her scan so it never occurred to me that she was asking me how many water bottles I had! Why didn’t she just ask me how may waters I had?? I think she knew I was a foreigner and she was trying to trick me. Well it worked. Score one for the cashier!

So now I know that when I’m in the market and I hear,

it really must mean “How many waters do you have”! If they try to ask me that and I don’t have any water, I’m really gonna be lost 🙂

Oh the wonders of the French language! Gotta love it and learn it!

About backyardprovence

I was finally able to realized my dream of living in France when I moved here in 2010. I love to read,I love history and road trips. I want to be doing anything outside in the fresh air. I want to have an entire room devoted to a personal library.

Posted on January 13, 2012, in French Word or Phrase and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Don’t feel bad Ashley, even though I’m familiar with the restaurant version of the phrase, hearing it at the cash register would freeze me as well!

    I have to mention something here that’s interesting only because it’s exactly what I do too — it seems you had a couple of chances to say something like “comment?” or “désolée j’ai pas compris”, but instead you went with the act-like-nothing-happened technique. I do that all the time! Often I get away with it but every now and then it brings a simple activity to a grinding halt, haha. I wonder why we do that? Maybe because admitting out loud we don’t know what’s going on never feels good, and we just get sick of doing it?

    Anyway great post, and know that you’re not the only one!

    • Hi Corey- I definitely could have said “pardon” or “comment”, but at that moment is seriously never entered my mind! When I am engaged in a conversation with someone I never hesitate to ask them to repeat something or rephrase something I didn’t get but I think that’s because I am already in a conversation with them. At the market, I was caught off guard. There I was in my own little quiet world, minding my own business and out pops this question. Usually the cashier says “Bonjour” and leaves it at that. They don’t seem too talkative in France to me. The more than “Bonjour” that day was totally unexpected and along with “je vous excoute”, I was done for! For me it all comes down to being more on my toes here. I think I need to have a heightened sense of awareness, even when buying water bottles. I also need to take lessons in French familiar talk. That is something I didn’t get in school. They stuck too much to grammar!

  2. Hi Ashley,
    I hated French language lessons at school, I only decided to go for it because the teacher was absolutely gorgeous. Biggest mistake of my life, what a teacher (NOT). I did learn a few French phrases when I was working on a building site over there, but I wouldn’t put them on here. Maybe we should teach the whole world one common language, like…..English. Lol

    All the best,

    • Hey Stephen- Isn’t it funny how we all learn the bad words first when learning another language. That holds so true no matter who you are or what new language you want to learn! As for the one world common language, didn’t you guys already try that?! LOL

      • Not really Ashley,
        We were just trying to educate the world. Lol. Seriously though, English is well known for being one of the easiest languages to learn (so they tell me). But being English born and bred, I suppose I would be a bit biased wouldn’t I?

      • Hey Stephen- I’m a bit biased on that one as well, since I pretty much thought that speaking that good old spin off of English which I happen to call speaking American, was pretty easy, too. That was until I started to do 9th grade English homework with my daughter. It turns out that this English can be a bit ridiculous, with its predicate pronouns, adverb clauses, objects of a preposition and so one. I’m just about going nuts. I guess the nitty gritty of English grammar can be quite difficult!

      • Well your’e writing is pretty damn good. I suppose we should all be masters of our own language. Lol

      • Ha! Thanks Stephen for the nice complement. Although I do confess that I really am just winging it and boy, by the look of 9th grade English I am afraid to see what her 10th, 11th and 12th grade English work will be like! Even if I did learn this stuff it was many moons ago and I have totally forgotten all the details.

  3. giuliasfootprints

    Eh eh, this is funny, love languages and the little or big misunderstanding that come with a new language, enjoyed your post. For me coming to UK, the puzzling words were cheers said at the end of sentences and then Bye, Now that sounds like your “allez, au revoir”

    • It’s really funny how moving to a new place with a new language can really get you! I love to learn all the slang and familiar words and phrases. It makes me feel more apart of the country and that I didn’t just learn everything from a text book!

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