"Yes, Si, Oui"
Every - Single - Time that I am asked a question, I go through the same routine. "Yes", I answer. "Oh, I mean Si...Oh no, I meant Oui!" Usually the answers are given with a shake of my head, "Yes", (shake) "Si", (shake) "Oui" - and a shutter of frustration. "Yes" seems simple enough, but my brain is confused and can't quite make it to "Oui", without the "Si" in between. After living in Mexico City (twice) and Puerto Rico - my brain automatically thinks that if I can't say it in English, then it MUST be Spanish. It's not that I am even fluent in Spanish, but my brain can't wrap around learning yet another language.
Thankfully, a friend of ours loaned me her Rosetta Stone in French. I am working on it and can basically say, "The woman swims, the fish eats, the boy runs and the man drinks". I suppose I could switch the words around and say that the man eats and the girl drinks - :) However, I am learning and I am working hard, but it takes a LOT of time and effort to learn to even get by in another language.
It also takes a lot more courage than I have some days to walk in places where I know that others can't understand me. However, if I want to get things done, I just have to step up and do the best I can.
Today, I needed to exchange a curtain panel that I recently purchased AND I wanted to buy some additional larger items. But, I needed help communicating. I asked my driver (who speaks English) to help with the exchange portion and get me started on the rest. To complicate matters, I forgot the receipt - but we forged ahead. When we entered the store, we were stopped for a lack of this receipt, and we argued our way in. The person sitting at the front desk refused to talk with us without our 'paper'. When the driver translated the situation to me, I simply said no - and explained that I just wanted to change the color and shouldn't need a receipt for that. He persisted and after 4-5 no's, they finally let me change the panel and our driver disappeared quickly to put it into the car before they changed their mind. I thought it was funny that they gave me a receipt before I left, in the event that I needed to exchange that one.
But now, I needed a pro forma to get the other items. A pro forma in this case, is a written invoice in order to purchase the items needed. Before our driver hurried away, he was able to get a name of the person I needed to talk with - and they were somewhere upstairs. So off I went upstairs to the third floor. I asked the first person I saw..."Bonjour - Madame Ozana?" "No" - and they pointed downstairs. So, I tried floor two and said, "Bonjour - Madame Ozana?" "No" - and they pointed. After a few more attempts, Madame Ozana appeared....and she didn't speak a word of English. We just smiled at each other and finally she picked up her phone and called someone and motioned for me to sit. Eventually, a gentleman arrived and asked if he could help me in English and I was thrilled. I showed him the 5-6 items around the store that I wanted and he wrote them down. He left for 10 minutes, had the pro forma typed up and gave me the total. I looked at it and asked about a discount - which I knew they would give if requested. Everything in Africa is negotiable and this was certainly no exception. The man pointed back to the front of the store to the exact man who I started this journey with and told me that he was the only one that could give a discount. I figured that I couldn't lose by trying - so I took a deep breath and walked back up to the desk. I simply said, "Bonjour", handed him the pro forma and commented, "Discount s'il vous plait". He asked a few questions, and I simply smiled and said, "Discount s'il vous plait" again. He rattled off and I didn't understand a word...and repeated, "Discount s'il vous plait' one more time. He figured out that I had NO idea what he was saying, so he just wrote on the pro forma, changed the prices and gave me the appropriate discount. Charles had mentioned to me that he could have someone in the office call and we should be able to get about 10% off. There was another employee who bought a lot recently and negotiated for days and received 12% discount - which our driver had never heard of at this location. When I saw the discount was written down on my pro forma and I was free to go, I smiled and said, "Thank you....Oh, I meant Gracias...Oh no, I meant Merci!! Merci Boucoup!" I looked down and he had discounted the price by 12% - so I was very pleased. Sometimes being confused can work to my advantage. Confusion coupled with persistence helps too.
The plan - the way that I understand it - is to take the pro forma, put it with a check and have the driver deliver it tomorrow. Then, we wait a day or so and go back to pick up the items that I wanted. So if I am fortunate, I will have a few basic rugs, a few new curtains, and a desk chair by Wednesday or Thursday!
On the way home, we stopped by the side of the road where they were selling beautiful fruit - the best I have seen in Douala. I was happy to purchase tomatoes, bananas, pineapples, fresh green beans and even red cabbage! I was on a roll - so I asked for a discount there too! :) They graciously obliged.
I feel like I have accomplished a LOT today. However, when I walked in, the housekeeper asked if I remembered to purchase bananas. I said "Yes...oh I meant Si...oh crud...Oui!! "
May my confusion be short lived!