Column: Trip abroad means some basic French and a $6 soda

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Oct. 28, 2011

In the past week, I’ve run into Tampa Bay Buccaneers players at the Tower of London, paid at least $6 for a bottle of soda in Paris and essentially walked the length of the United States while touring the two European cities.

Ah, being abroad.

The wife and I had talked about going to Europe for years, and we finally made the trip last week.

It was an exciting journey, especially because it was my first time abroad. (I’ve been to Canada and Mexico, but those don’t count. I’ve also been to Jamaica on a missionary trip, but that ended with us holed up inside a school wrongly afraid that the villagers were about to attack us. Let’s just move on.)

The first three days were spent in London, the land of “chip, chip, cheerio” and unlikely food items tossed willy nilly into pies. (We had a pie with goat cheese in it. Seriously, goat cheese. It was actually pretty good.)

We visited the normal tourist sites – the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and the Tower of London, where we ran into the Buccaneers who were in town early getting ready to face the Chicago Bears on Sunday. It turns out examining torture devices and various suits of armor does not help you win football games.

And I got to eat fish and chips in London, which was my main goal. Final result, they taste like fish and chips in America. Oh, well.

From there, it was on to four days in Paris.

Fortunately, my wife speaks some French. Unfortunately, the extent of my French is randomly yelling the names of French actors and fictional characters. (Gerard Depardieu! Jean Reno! Jean-Luc Picard!) This is not the way to make friends with the French.

My wife took pity on me, though, and taught me a few basic French phrases on the train ride to Paris. I was now able to say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French” and “I would like a Coca-Cola.” Sadly, I would get my words mixed up sometimes and end up apologizing for not being able to speak Coca-Cola. It’s a tough language.

Despite not understanding much of what was being said around me, Paris was great. We walked everywhere – to Notre Dame, to the Louvre, to the shopping areas (my wife’s choice). I walked more in those seven days than I had in maybe the entire year. And the food was spectacular. Overpriced generally, but spectacular.

We complain a lot about the price of things here in the Chicago area. We have nothing to complain about. Just about everything is more expensive in London and Paris. A bottled soda can cost $6. Finding a “good deal” on bottled soda means you paid about $3. Meals cost more. Clothes cost more. Museums cost more. It was like being at Disney World for seven straight days.

By the time the week was over, I was ready to go back home. I was tired of trying to pronounce French. I was tired of $6 sodas. And I was just tired. My feet were killing me and – in the French tradition – were about ready to go on strike.

It was a great trip, but I was thrilled to be back home when the plane landed. No, I did not kiss the ground. One of my personal rules is that I do not kiss the floors of dirty airports. But I did smile. And I bought a soda for $1.50. God bless America.

Joe Grace is a former editor of the Kane County Chronicle who will occasionally drop in. You can write to him at and follow his writings at


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