Tuesday 11 May 2010

As I promised yesterday ...

As promised, this is the new and improved 'showing' version of yesterday's post, which is now a scene in my memoir WE'RE NOT ORDINARY PEOPLE. It's still in first draft stage so it might become even more detailed further down the track. If any of you speak French, please let me know if I have written the hotel owner's dialogue correctly! I just used an Internet translator. My mother's dialogue doesn't need to be fixed because she's supposed to be saying things incorrectly. Hope you like it! And, of course, critique is always welcome :)

Due to some ridiculous advice from her doctor, Mum refused to sleep on any soft mattresses—her back had to be straight and supported at all times. This made it very difficult to find a room, and we always ended up staying in bug-ridden pensions because we couldn’t afford proper hotels. Snarls. Yes, we regularly received vicious snarls when Mum would go traipsing through every single room, inspecting the beds, as though she were about to stay in a 500 dollar suite at the Hilton.

In Nice, standing in front of perhaps the fifth pension we practically ransacked that day, Mum pulled out her pocket-sized French phrase book and said to the little old man sitting behind the tiny reception desk, “Parlez-vous l'anglais?”

The little old man shook his head, “Désolé, je ne parle pas d'anglais.”

“Er …,” mum paused for a moment. She looked at Demetri for help, who was staring at the wall paper. It was of tree branches covered in pink and yellow blossom, and there were brown wrinkles of paper curling off the walls—although, it didn’t look too bad because in places you could mistake the peeling paper for the brown twigs in the pattern.

“Demetri! Help me find the words in the phrase book. I don’t know where to look.” She gave the book to Demetri, huffing and puffing impatiently. He flipped through a few pages, um-ing and ah-ing.

“Christ. Give it back. We’ll still be standing her tomorrow morning if I leave it up to you.” Mum snatched the phrase book off him and after few more seconds of furiously sifting through pages, she found what she was looking for.

“It’s right here, you idiot,” she whispered heavily pointing her forefinger down so hard on the page that the tip of her finger went a sweaty shade of white and red. “Um … Je … um … blessure …,” mum continued, pointing to her lower back. “Je, non mou … lit … Oui?” The little old man nodded. He seemed to catch on to what she was trying to say.

“Oui, oui, suivez-moi,” the little old man said, gesturing for us to follow him. He took us up a very narrow flight of stairs. The place smelt rather moldy, but I felt comfortable despite the fact. I was really hoping we’d find a hard bed—my feet were throbbing from schlepping round the streets and traipsing up and down countless staircases, not to mention my tired shoulders from carrying my backpack. To be honest, I was just happy to get away from the smell of poodle poop and perfume—it really accentuated the smell of our three-day old dirty sweaty bodies.

The little old man showed us one room—my mum felt the mattress—it wasn’t hard enough. He showed us a second room—my mum felt the mattress—it wasn’t hard enough. He showed us a third room—my mum felt the mattress—it wasn’t hard enough. He showed us a fourth room—my mum felt the mattress—it was hard enough.

Mum started nodding, “Oui, Oui.”

“Bon, bon. Comment voudriez-vous payer?”

“Um, er … how much?” Mum asked waving her hand in the air beside her right cheek.


“Um …,” she flicked though the book again. I could see she was getting tired. She rubbed her back and shot Demetri a ‘look’. One of those looks that meant Demetri was being useless. He shot her a look back. A defenseless look, a look that meant, he had no control over the situation. He never had control over any situation, mind you. He was the ‘yes man’. Mum said jump, and he’d jump, and then he’d stuff it up and be in big trouble. “Um … combien?” Mum asked finally.

“Vingt franks par nuit,” he replied. He must have realised from our blank expressions that we didn’t understand, and fetched a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote something down, which I never saw, and Mum shook her head.

“Too much. It’s too much. Sorry.”

“Pardon? Vous ne l'aimez pas?”

“No. Sorry,” Mum said, and started to head out of the room with Demetri and I following behind her like Mary’s little lambs. But the petite old man started to yell.

“Vous m'avez fait vous montrer chaque pièce dans l'hôtel! Et maintenant vous ne l'aimez pas ? Vous êtes idiots!” He half opened a door which seemed to lead into a kitchen, poked his head in and yelled out something I couldn’t make out. Seconds later a fat greasy middle-aged woman with a protruding chin and a bloody apron chased us down the stairs and out into the street with a carving knife. The type of woman you’d read about in Brother’s Grimm books. I started crying, my mum started hyperventilating and Demetri, always looking on the bright side of life said to me, “Don’t worry, Sweetie. Just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell your kids!”

PS: Don't forget to check in tomorrow for the Internal Conflict Blog Fest!!!


  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing both versions...drives the point home!!

  2. This is great too! You've got some mad talent, girl.

    Man, I totally forgot about the internal conflict thing! How is that supposed to work? Do we post that on our own blogs or yours? Eek! I'm stressing!


  3. The talent is spilling off the page! I love it!! Thanks for sharing it all!

    I'm so excited about tomorrow! I'm ready to post!

  4. I am glad you shared both versions. This one is so much better than the previous one - and works better in the context too, I guess.

  5. Automatic translation... Ick. ; j
    Pet peeve. I translate for a living. Here are my corrections for your french. I also left the English punctuation. There was one tiny typo in the English.

    Proofing set aside, this was a fun read! Kinda reminded me of John Irving and the time I spent working the reception of a small hotel... Thanks for sharing!
    The little old man shook his head, “Désolé, je ne parle pas *anglais.”

    “Christ. Give it back. We’ll still be standing her*e tomorrow morning if I leave it up to you.”

    “Bon*. Comment voudriez-vous payer*?”
    ---(this is grammatically correct but not used much anymore, maybe the old man is very formal when he is ticked off, if not he would have said "Comment voulez-vous payer?")

    “Vingt franc*s par nuit,” he replied.

    “Pardon? Vous ne l'aimez pas?*”
    ---(This is grammatically correct, but a bit weird. In eng, it would translate to "I’m sorry, what? You don’t like it?" Don’t like what? The price? The room? Maybe "Pardon? Vous changez d’avis?" Which would be " I’m sorry, what? You’re changing your mind?"

    “J’ai été obligé de* vous montrer chaque pièce dans l'hôtel! Et maintenant vous changez d’avis? Vous êtes cons ou quoi*?” (Much more idiomatic, and likely given the circumstances)

  6. Awesome, Alesa! Thanks a million!!!!

  7. I realize after the fact that my punctuation remark might seem cryptic...
    They punctuate differently in french. For instance they put spaces in front of questions marks.
    I didn't do that because this piece isn't targeting french people. : j Cheers.

  8. No problem, alesa :) I figured that as they puncutate differently in Greek too :) Thanks again!

  9. You're quite welcome!

    I just looked up greek punctuation. Interesting... the semicolon and the question mark! The history behind the development is interesting too...
    More to read when I get home tonight. : j

  10. You never cease to blow my mind. Fantastic!
    *wants to be you*

  11. Well done! I love that you posted both pieces to show the difference. While I liked the first one, this one proved the point that showing is better.

  12. If you want my opinion I think it's great.

    Take care.

  13. Wow great update Jessica, this one really sings! I didn't think the first was that bad, but this is better.

    Unrelated - how am I not one of your top commentors? I comment every day. Has it really been less than seventeen days since I started following you? If so that's crazy.

  14. I may have to start commenting twice - since you are friggin awesome!

  15. LOL, Matthew. Yes I think it has. Strange isn't it? It doesn't seem that short. Go ahead! Split your comments into two ;)

  16. Nice!! This one is incredible. I loved it! Thanks for sharing!

  17. You are so talented. I loved reading this and I will have to go check out your other version. Loved it, thanks for sharing!

  18. It's so much fun to read both ways of telling the story. I like them both a lot, and I'm still laughing about that whole being chased out of the hotel thing. I mean, in real life, it'd be terrifying, but it's fun to read. :)
    Also, this isn't a grammar thing, and it's obviously your choice as the author, but I've never heard a French person apologize for not speaking English. Most of the time they either say, "a little," or, "Non."
    :) But Nice is in the south, so it may be different, I don't know.

  19. I really enjoyed this. It was great and though I loved the version yesterday, this one underscores the showing as opposed to telling. Great!

  20. I agree with Alesa's French corrections. This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  21. I liked the first one, but this one is so much stronger. Really good writing!

  22. Wow, thanks for posting this. I enjoyed the first but this one was awesome. :)

  23. I loved it!!! I just really like how I'm not sure where you're going...so fresh!! Jealous of your fluidity as I've stated before and the only thing, that's so minor I should shut my trap but I would want you to tell me is...three-day old dirty sweaty bodies read awkward to me---Maybe go with our three day old festering stench or something to that effect!!!

    Fave lines (cause you have so many good ones in this piece) is-Mary's Little lambs...poodle poop and perfume...tip of her finger went a sweaty shade of white and red.... and the description of the wall paper. You really accomplished realistic and believable action to state the main point of your mother being so overbearing and insatiable! You go girl!!!

  24. The first one was good but yeah, this really brought it to light. Well done Ms.Fab. :)

  25. Immense improvement. I felt your characters. You put me in the room with them. Loved this version. (Hugs)Indigo

  26. Pass the "Duh" moment award to me please. I just realized this was a memoir and you had given me a glimpse into your life. I have a feeling we may share similiar stories. (Hugs)Indigo


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