I should start by saying that I have had some great experiences with taxi drivers in Paris. The West African immigrant who got me from the airport to my apartment for 40 euros when it should have cost 50, the guy who plowed through downtown traffic like a crazy man to get me to the opera on time–I’ve never really felt like I was getting ripped off here.
But, who doesn’t hate taking a taxi in a strange city? I always feel like I have to do something to demonstrate that I’m not some tourist to be driven in circles around the périphérique for two hours. In Paris, the obvious way for an American to do that is by speaking French. But, besides the fact that I don’t speak French well, there’s also the issue that unlike in the United States, where you might know your taxi driver’s children’s names and grade point averages by the time you get where you’re going, it’s culturally weird to have a conversation with someone you don’t know here. So, how to establish your Parisian bona fides? My latest hypothesis is that you do this by asking your taxi driver if they have Uber here yet. It turns out that they do, and if your taxi driver is anything like mine was this morning as I made my way into town from the airport, he’ll have a lot to say about it. I tried the Uber approach this morning. It did start up a conversation, and when the traffic became completely impossible–the quarter finals of the French Open are today, and the King of Spain is driving through town for some reason–my taxi driver became a madman and got me where I was going faster than might have happened otherwise. Words that I learnt in the course of the ride from the airport:
- boucher: this is a noun, meaning “butcher,” but it’s also a verb, with meanings that have to do with blocking things. So, it can mean “to cork” a bottle, and “to plug” or “to seal” a hole or a crack. In the case of traffic, it is “to block.” As my taxi driver said in frustration as he tried yet again to get off of the freeway: C’est bouché partout, partout, partout! “It’s blocked everywhere, everywhere, everywhere!”
- le débouché: an outlet, opening, or exit. There’s also a verb déboucher that means things like “to unblock” and “to uncork.” When we broke free of traffic thanks to the driver’s heroic exertions, I happily said débouché! He responded glumly, pour le moment–“for the moment.”