We rented a canal boat in France in May with friends. We piloted it ourselves and moved between small towns on the Saône, the Seille, and the Canal du Centre in Burgundy. We had a great vacation, enjoying the sights, the countryside, the cheese, and of course the wine of France.
Five of the six of us had taken French in high school, one much longer, and so we got by in French much of the time. Additionally, the English of many folks in the hospitality industry was much better than our French, so we switched often. For instance, we conversed easily with the staff at the port where we picked up and dropped off the boat, the mechanic who came to help us when we had battery trouble, people in restaurants, and the staff at the capitaineries where we payed to moor the boat, hook up to shore power, and take on potable water.
Some in the group enjoyed using their French, while others of us felt overwhelmed. My joke is that I don’t really like speaking in English, and speaking in French is even more intimidating! Still, we enjoyed the little pleasantries, such as when we bought our pain au chocolat in the morning, we chatted amicably in French with the vendor. We said we were happy to have the pastries because we were hungry, to which he replied “c’est une bonne maladie!” A good problem, especially in France. Before we left, he wished us a pleasant journey, a great day, and a few other nice things. It was difficult to match the ardent good wishes and blessings we received!
M. Malaprop strikes!
As you might expect, we managed a few hum-dingers with our half-remembered French. We had a wonderful time at the tasting room of Domain Mestre Père et Fils in Santenay. It took us a lot longer than we expected to traverse the eleven locks from the Saône up to the wine country on the Canal du Centre. The locks make canal travel slow-going, and our trip was further slowed when we got stuck in one of the automatic locks. Its doors closed after the first boat exited and before we were able to leave, so we had to wait for the remote lock-keeper to drive up and free us. We became fast friends with the lock-keeper and saw him on several of the locks going up the Canal and then going back down the next day.
By the time we got to Santenay, we were running up against the end of the day. We had called ahead, and although we were initially told they closed at 6PM (or 18 hours), we switched to English with someone else on staff who offered to give us a wine tasting if we arrived before 6PM. We got to Santenay a little after 5PM, and although it was a short walk from our mooring on the Canal du Centre to the center of town and the tasting room, it likely wasn’t much before 6 when we arrived at the tasting room.
We had a wonderful tasting, we enjoyed the wine, learned a lot, spoke in both English and French, and picked up some bottles for later in our trip. We would have bought more if we could take it home easily. At the end of our tasting, after we were shown their wine cave with stacks and stacks of bottles below the tasting room, we thanked our host in French. Instead of saying, it’s so nice (“c’est très gentil”) one of us said it’s so pretty (“c’est très joli”) – they actually sound more similar in French, although they are not homophones. We corrected ourselves immediately. Our host, without skipping a beat, replied, in French, that he was both pretty and nice. That describes our experience perfectly – pretty and nice, and good humored.
If you’d like to travel by boat on the Saône, Seille, and Canal du Centre, we had a great time with le boat!