Speaking Indonesian in France 

I am in 7th heaven because today I enjoyed 2 Indonesian conversations!! To be honest, they both were achieved intentionally. Since booking my trip to France, I wondered about my chances of meeting an Indonesian person. This curiosity increased with my nervous first attempts using French. It’s so foreign for me to be overseas and to be unable to communicate smoothly. As soon as I get flustered, Indonesian just pops out of my mouth! So one of the first things I did on my first jet lagged day in Paris was to google Indonesian restaurants in Paris and was thrilled to discover there are 4 listed on TripAdvisor. 

Today while traveling on the batobus, I noticed Indonesian writing on a fellow passengers t-shirt. Feeling like a stalker, I wandered over to where he was seated and sat next to the 2 women travelling with him. I introduced myself in Indonesian and when they both did a double take, I enjoyed their reaction!! They were all from Jakarta, although one lives and works in Denmark now! It was so lovely chatting with them both before getting off at the next stop. They happily permitted me to video them introducing themselves to my students!! Their kindness and generosity in providing me with a much appreciated Indonesian language fix will stay with me for a long time. 

​Mid afternoon, feeling hungry, I decided to try to locate one of the Indonesian restaurants I’d discovered online. I chose Restaurant Indonesia because it looked the most straight forward to get to from the Batobus circuit. I headed up Rue Saint Michel towards the Luxembourg Gardens and found it easily on a side street. It has a small alfresco area outside – largely smokers – as well as a row of tables inside. The decor is definitely Indonesian although slightly dated. I saw the waiter and spoke to him in Indonesian. He stated matter of a factly that the only languages he can speak are French and English and that the only person here who speaks Indonesian is the chef! I was taken aback with his abrupt response. I found a seat close to the front windows and sat down before asking for the menu which listed a variety of delicious traditional Indonesian dishes including nasi goreng, soto ayam, sate, lumpia and pepes ikan. I ordered urap and gado gado both of which were absolutely delicious even though the vegetables used were unusual. The urap used long thin carrot ribbons and was arranged on a bed of baby spinach but the spices were truly amazing. 

Half way through my meal, I asked the waiter if he would ask the chef if she had any time to chat with me. He strutted out to the kitchen and relayed my request. The chef came out immediately and we chatted for ages in Indonesian. Sheer bliss!! Her family have lived here in France since 1965, a significant date that fully explains her family’s unspoken backstory. The restaurant, the very first Indonesian restaurant in France, is run by a cooperative and has done so ever since it was opened by her father 35 years ago. All profits are shared equally amongst those on the cooperative and they also happily provide work opportunities for people with minimal experience. The waiter would definitely be a recipient of this. His waiting skills were definitely lacking. The most bizarre thing he did was ignore totally a broken glass jar that fell off the bench onto the floor. He purely walked over it crunching the glass up underfoot each time. 

Enjoy my video of Ibu Anita introducing herself and speaking about her restaurant:

I’ve since reflected upon my desire to speak Indonesian so early into my trip and I’m still not exactly sure why I needed it so urgently. It’s funny that I craved an Indonesian conversation rather than an Australian one!! I’ve heard and seen a few Aussies but the idea of starting up a conversation with them is not appealing at all. Was it my way of dealing with culture/ language shock? A self confidence booster? I don’t speak French but I can speak another (not English) language? Whatever the underlying reason, since leaving the restaurant, I felt significantly more comfortable with my lack of French. Which is why, no doubt, that I had a whole conversation at a boulanger all in French on the way back home!! It went something like this: Bonsoir. Un baguette s’il vous plaît. Merci. Au revoir. I floated on air all the way back to my Airbnb thanks to the lovely encouraging lady at the boulanger. 

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