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It was like a fantasy: The carols playing, the giant Christmas tree, children on Santa's knee. One last sweep of South Coast Plaza mall and I'd fulfill my shopping duties for 2011. "Such a beautiful dress in this store window." I remembered having a crush on a mannequin just like that one when I was four years old. "Look at the interesting display in that one. I should take a picture of it," I thought to myself. "No. Never mind."
"Oh, look! They're serving champagne in that store! They have waiters. What's it called? Oh, it's called Assouline. Hmm. And it's a book store. I'm probably pronouncing it wrong."
Ah, French. So impossible for me to understand. So easy to mispronounce. Should I learn to speak French? No. Why? No practical reason, I suppose.
I have an American friend who speaks French. He moved to Paris with his wife. They got mugged on Christmas Eve. They'd seen a concert and were walking home when a small crowd of rowdy, bratty French teenagers came along. One grabbed his satchel. My friend tried to fight him off but failed. My friend's wife swore in English at the brats. She swore that she'd kick their asses if she got ahold of 'em.
My friend picked himself up off the ground. He'd lost his balance in the tussle. The brat ran toward the darkness with the satchel while my friend squinted, huffing and puffing, thinking dirty thoughts.
From the other direction, a whining, grinding sound swelled up from a dim alley. It was a Samaritan. The Samaritan was driving a Vespa. He'd seen what had happened, and like Batman to the rescue, he vowed to right the wrong done to my friend and his satchel.
The Vespa roared like only a Vespa can roar, thinly adolescent, yet insistently toward the thief. Four seconds later, the French brat was on the ground, tire tracks drawn up his back like a skunk's stripe, his face mashed into the sidewalk.
"Merci," my friend told the Samaritan as he took back his dusty satchel. "Joyeux Noël," he said.
The Samaritan responded in French. "You're not from around here, are you?"