Overcoming language barriers

About fifteen years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to Cannes for a global conference. Unfortunately, my company frowned on spouses coming as they wanted us to interact with our colleagues. So, I attempted to remedy this by buying my wife a couple of dresses while there.

My dilemma is outside of a few pleasantries and counting to ten, that is the extent of my French. So, in walks this big, tall American guy into a French dress shop. And, to my misfortune, the two sales women did not speak English. What I also did not fully understand is French dress sizes are different from American dress sizes. This is important facet of the story.

The French woman assisting me was lovely and very svelte. My wife is 5’6″ and is more voluptuous. Through many smiles and laughter, we found a couple of dresses that we felt my wife would like relying on gestures and what little of each other’s language we could speak. Yet, we now had arrived at the moment of reckoning, the sizing. With the sizing differences, the number sizes I was spouting were not working.

So, my funny new friend was trying to ascertain my wife’s shape in comparison to hers. Through gestures and heightened sensitivity on both our parts, she was able to understand that my wife was taller and more shapely than she is and not as thin as her model like form. We did the best we could and each walked away with a story to tell. She would likely tell others about this funny tall American man buying dresses for his wife without speaking French.

The result of our funny sales encounter was not successful on the size front. At least I shot too low, so I did not have to explain why I thought my wife was larger. My wife could barely squeeze into one, but could not wear it as it would split. The other one had no chance of getting zipped up. But, I did get some brownie points for trying and came away with a funny story, which I tell to this day. And, I am sure my funny sales person is doing the same.





18 thoughts on “Overcoming language barriers

  1. You are a very brave man. Lesson learned: if you don’t know the correct size, always aim a little low. A larger size can be altered down, it’s true, but at least by buying a smaller size, you won’t have to explain to your wife why you thought she was larger.

    I’ve noticed that European sizes are smaller than US sizes. I think we Americans like to delude ourselves into thinking we are slimmer than we really are. “Vanity sizing” they call it.

    • Merci beaucoup. My wife called this the Liz Claiborne effect. She said they were the first women’s clothes maker to purposefully deceive with smaller size numbers for larger sizes. Thanks for your support of my downside error.

  2. Haha… I see you desperatly trying to explain how your wife looks like and kind of translating the size. So funny. You are right, if they are not fitting then at least too small. What a nice compliment 🙂

  3. Note to Readers: I should add that on this trip, an additional challenge occurred for me. The airline lost my luggage. So, the US president of our company lent me a shirt and sweater for the first night’s event. I kept thinking “don’t spill anything.” I made it through and had the shirt dry cleaned and safely returned. By the way, lending the shirt off your back is very presidential. Maybe that should be how we judge who we vote for.

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