My friend Gloria and I were thrilled to start our long-awaited two-week European cruise. We’d enjoyed long weekend cruises to the Caribbean before, but this was going to be an adventure to view the architecture of the oldest places in the world and experience their culture.
We got to the ship, had our picture taken and found the stateroom. Looking around the room, it was a little cramped. It wasn’t any smaller than other cruise cabins, but measuring our two weeks of luggage against the closets barely designed for one person, we decided to make it work by doubling and tripling up our outfits on the few hangers provided.
We figured out the bathroom situation on the last cruise. Gloria used the vanity mirror to do her hair and makeup and I did mine in the bathroom. We took very short showers and washed our hair at night before bed, to maximize time. We made an agreement early on that nothing was going to dampen our excitement.
At our first meal, we sat down at a table with eight other people. Everyone introduced themselves. There were a few Americans, Brits and one couple from Australia. Then it was my turn.
“Aloo, I am Peggine from Pari. I am happy to meet you all,” I said in my best Maurice Chevalier voice. I’ve seen Gigi about 100 times.
Gloria was dumbfounded. She looked at me with bulging confused eyes and just said “Gloria,” and waved with a blank expression.
All through dinner, I kept it up. Luckily none of them had ever been to Paris. Neither had I. But as a movie buff, I described ever scene I ever saw from Gigi, Charade, Moulin Rouge and An American in Paris. I talked like a native. No one would have ever known, except a Parisian, of course.
People asked me questions and complimented my accent. It was like holding court. I had an absolute blast. But poor Gloria, she kept looking at me bewildered panic.
After everyone left the table, she glared at me.
“Wasn’t that fun?” I chuckled.
“Not for me. What was that all about?” she demanded.
“I saw a TV show where they pretended to be somebody else for the whole cruise. And when everyone was introducing themselves, suddenly it hit me. I don’t want to be just plain Peg from retirement community Florida. And before I knew it, Peggine came out of my mouth,” I explained.
“Well, that’s interesting. But I wish I would have known, I felt stupid just sitting there thinking I was going to have to commit you to the looney bin,” she said relieved.
“Why don’t you do it too? You saw what happened. People treated me like a queen. And since we don’t eat with the same people or even see any of these people again, what’s the harm?” I said.
“It sounds like fun, but I could never do an accent like that,” she giggled.
I thought about it for a few minutes and then I had an idea.
“What if you had a unique occupation, something really out there. What do you know enough about to fake?” I said.
She looked at me in silence for the longest time and then her eyes brightened in excitement.
“I love Indiana Jones movies, what if I said I was an archaeologist?” she said.
“That works, but remember you have to sell it. And make sure not to bring it up until they tell you what they do, so you don’t get caught,” I warned.
And for the rest of the cruise, the French Peggine and the archaeologist Gloria delighted our fellow passengers with our made-up escapades and interesting tales.
It was amazing. Gloria spun such incredible yarns. People treated us like celebrities. Everyone we met smiled and waved to us anywhere they saw us on the ship.
Keeping up the pretense was a lot of work, you had to stay on your toes, but it was worth it. We were having the time of our lives. No more boring retired ladies from Florida whose husbands were too stuck in their ways to travel. We were internationalists.
The real test came when the ship landed in Paris. I knew I would be revealed as an imposter if I tried my fake French accent to actual Parisians, so we went off on our own to explore everything. We would have done that anyway, so no harm, no foul.
We walked up and down the streets of Paris, gawking at the expensive fashions in the store windows, marveled at the Eiffel Tower and did everything a tourist would do. Then we sat at a street café and had some French wine and pastries for a treat. It was wonderful. Until someone we met on the ship found us. It was an American lady from Georgia who we ate dinner with on the first night.
“Oh look, there’s Peggine. She’ll help us,” the Georgian said.
Gloria and I stared at each other in panic. We were caught.
“Peggine, this French waiter can’t understand a cotton picken word we say. We just want some of their stinky cheese and some decent wine and make sure they give us French bread. Can you tell him please?” she explained, quite loudly.
If I wasn’t so terrified to be trapped in my own web of lies, I would’ve laughed. If someone from another country comes to America, we immediately shame them for not communicating with us in our language. And yet when we travel, we chastise others for not understanding us, insisting they should know our language too. After all, we are in their country. And what kind of bread did she think they served in France anyway?
I saw the look on the waiter’s face, pleading for help as if to say “please get these ridiculous Americans away from me.”
Luckily, even though I was guilty of perpetuating a false rouse, I was not one of those Americans. I brushed up some on my high school French before the trip. It wasn’t perfect, but I hoped to get by. So in my best fake French accent, I asked the waiter for wine, cheese and bread and held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t out me.
“Oui madam,” he smiled and left.
“Oh thank you. You’d think with all the American and British tourists, they would understand English.” She said and gratefully, they went back to their table.
Gloria and I sighed in relief. We were almost finished, so we quickly gobbled our remaining bites and sips, paid the bill and walked away as fast as we could.
“I can’t believe we got away with that,” Gloria said surprised.
“I know, I’m not sure if I was that convincing or if he was that desperate to get rid of them. I wonder?” I said.
Trying out my theory, I used my newfound high school French and my fake accent for the rest of the day. We both noticed a difference in the way we were treated by the Parisians. They were fine before, but now they were friendlier and more accommodating and cordial. It was amazing.
I knew they didn’t believe I was French. In fact, I made quite a few mistakes. But I guess they deal with a lot of people like our fellow Georgian passenger so often, they were appreciative of the effort.
All in all, the vacation was eye opening and enjoyable in so many ways. Gloria and I are planning a visit to Australia soon. We’re trying to figure out who we want to be. This time we’re going to plan in advance, study and look the part. Pretending makes the journey so much more memorable.
(c) Suzanne Rudd Hamilton 2022