Using the telephone when you live in a country where you don’t speak the language is daunting. You know each time that you’re going to look like an idiot. You can’t resort to the pointing and grunting to make yourself understood that you do in person. Instead, you’re left sounding like a moron; it’s inevitable.
Normally for me looking like a dork is not a problem. Since that’s how I look frequently, I make the best of it. I even enjoy it more often than not. And those experiences often become my funniest stories.
But when you make an idiot out of yourself because you can’t communicate, it’s different. If you can’t laugh with the person who witnessed it, well, it takes the fun out of it. All you’re left with is feeling like a lonely idiot.
Knowing that humiliation would follow, each and every time I picked up the phone in when we lived in French-speaking Switzerland, my heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach while my pulse rate and blood pressure soared. I was on my way to the Idiot Zone.
And that’s just how I felt when I picked up the phone to call dog breeders. We’d opted for a pure bred puppy because we had a little kid (Jacob was 6) and because my husband is a lawyer and thinks that he can research things and know what he’s getting into. Yeah right.
Anyway, in early 1998 we needed a puppy. I needed a puppy. My son needed to grow up with a dog since he had no siblings and needed someone to talk to. John got to choose the breed: An English Springer Spaniel.
That morning as always, I looked at the phone with trepidation. Shit, I thought. I picked it up and dialed.
“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Elyse. Vendez-vous les chiots?” Hi. My name is Elyse. Do you sell puppies? [Yes, I’m quite the French conversationalist. In English you can’t shut me up.]
“Would you like to speak English?” said the woman on the other end of the line.
“Yes!!!!” I said with tears of relief/delight/I-don’t-have-to-sound-like-a-dope coming to my eyes. I couldn’t believe my luck. All I could think of was just how lucky I was to not have to try to negotiate in French. Or German. Or Italian. Or Romanch. Instead, on the other end of the phone was someone who spoke English! A woman who could understand me and respond. A woman with puppies!
“Very good. I can speak English. And I have puppies. Can you visit them tomorrow?”
A plan was set. We got directions and headed out the next morning to pick out a puppy!
All the puppies were in a room with some cushions and blankets on the floor. The three of us made ourselves comfortable and started cuddling puppies.
Jacob picked up the puppy closest to him and put it in his lap the way Madame Carasco, the breeder, showed him, as the puppies were still quite young. But another puppy waddled over to Jacob, pushed the first puppy off of Jacob’s lap and settled himself down for the long haul with my 7 year old son. It was the only smart thing that dog has ever done.
“Look! He loves me Mom!”
And then I asked the price.
Cooper is descended from a line of top show dogs that have been winning Swiss and other European competitions for generations, going back to Roman times, I’m pretty sure. Cooper couldda been a contender. But I’m not that kind of a girl (and we’re not that kind of a family). His perfect physique, beautiful coloring and his full (not cut off) tail “showed” only to friends and family. And he’s never whined once about lost glory. What a guy!
But he loves me, Mom!
Today is Cooper’s 105th Birthday, his 15th in human years. He’s an old man now, a puppy no longer. His joints are stiff, he can’t walk upstairs by himself these days, and is so blind that he only realizes we have entered or left a room by sniffing the air.
You know, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t ask the price on the phone. Because Cooper has been well worth every centime.