15 March 2010

The Trouble With Numbers

I hate math.  I always have.  Numbers are a language I have never been successful at learning.

I have mentioned before that in French, it is necessary to complete simple math equations just to count to 100.  Par example, the number 61 in French is soixante-et-un --literally sixty and one . . . but 72 is soixante-douze--literally sixty-twelve.  One might think that 80 would be literally eighty, but no, it's quatre-vingt--literally four-twenty (4 times 20 is 80, if you multiply that high), so 90 is quatre-vingt-dix--literally four-twenty-ten (because 4 times 20 plus 10 is 90 . . . you can understand my frustration!)

So yesterday I needed to run to the store to get some white-out.  But it was Sunday, so the typical shop I'd go to was closed.  The open on Sundays was all out of white-out (and pens, and paper clips, and anything else stationary-ish you can think of) so I stopped by a little librarie (book store . . . la bibliothèque is the library) next to my favorite boulangerie.  Sure enough they had white-out. But it was 4euros80 and that was outrageous.  But I really needed white-out and I was already having one of those days when I never really should have gotten up, just locked myself in my room all day, so I went ahead and regrettably purchased le truc.  

When I got to the register, the man asked me Ça coûte combien?  (How much is it?)  I replied: Uh, quatre euros, quelque chose.  (Uh, 4euros something)  He wasn't satisfied with my quelque chose and was clearly not going to leave his post behind the till . . . I wanted to by it, I was going to have to check the price.  Combien de centime? (How many cents?) he asked as I was walking to check.  I turned as I saw the price: Quatre-vingt (80 . . . but remember, literally 4-20).  He clicked 4.20 into the till.  NON! Ce n'est pas correct! I said.  Quatre-vignt! (80 . . . literally 4-20)  He looked at me confused.  I said it again: Quatre-vignt.  He retyped 4.20 into the till.  Non, monsieur! Quatre-vignt . . . vous connissez, huit et zero (No sir, 80 [literally 4-20] . . . you know, 8 and 0) as I drew them in the air.  He was confused.  I was frustrated.  I tried the old trick of Désolée, je parle un peu de francais (Sorry I only speak a little French) but it didn't work. 

Finally, ready to accept that he didn't want the extra 60centime I tried one last time.  Quatre euros quatre-vingt centime.  (4euros 80cents)  OH!  Pourqoui est-ce que vous ne dites pas ça? (OH!  Well then why didn't you say that?!?!)  OY!  I wanted to say "THEN WHY DID YOU ONLY ASK ME FOR THE CENTS OR BETTER YET, GO LOOK YOURSELF!?!?!" But I couldn't think that fast . . . and it was probably my poor communication anyway and I just wanted to blame someone else for my crappy morning.

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