Mon Vieux: n. m. (familiar) my old man, my old friend.
I met Bruce in New York in the late 80s when the city was literally crawling with homeless people. Every street corner, subway car and park bench was home to some pitiful soul begging for money. And Bruce, having “herded drunks” for five years as a Phoenix cop, had an attitude of zero tolerance for these folks. On more than one occasion I could be seen cowering behind him, while he berated some fool who had the temerity to ask for change or a spare cigarette. One altercation in the Times Square area ended with the words “You ol’ nasty stinkin’ white man!” hurled at Bruce (which I have to admit I’ve done myself on more than one occasion in the intervening years).
So you can imagine my reaction yesterday when we encountered a young, burly, barefooted drunk, intent on blocking our path in the beautiful Public Garden. As the man spoke his first words, I turned around, flung out a quick “Je ne parle pas francais” and hightailed it out of there, fully expecting Bruce to follow.
But no. France has worked some sort of magic on my often impatient husband, and for the next few minutes I watched from a safe distance while these two strangers struggled to converse, as each in his own way was having trouble with words. Bruce first explained that he didn’t speak very good French, and I was alarmed to hear the other loudly insist that “This is France. One MUST speak French!“ But it was quickly apparent that the situation was safe and when I got close I could hear that they were discussing politics! Now anyone who knows Bruce will not find this surprising, but I think it was the drunk who had introduced the subject. About the time I caught up with them the guy was asking my husband what he thought of the situation in Europe. But to top it off, he kept referring to Bruce as “mon vieux” or my old friend. To my mind this is a vast improvement over “you ol’ nasty stinkin’ white man” and I think it bodes well for our future here.
Editors Note: I don't know what it says about me, but this is the first French speaking guy I've understood.