Earlier this week, I accidentally finalized the paperwork on someone else’s bank account.
We were in the process of setting up a French bank account to pay our rent and utilities, and last time we left the bank, our representative Katrina said, “Next time you come in, we’ll all be speaking in French.” Which was a friendly, innocuous statement. But my anxiety amplified her parting words until they became this weird expat challenge I needed to clear. Can you navigate French bureaucracy in French?! And the answer is… no. No, I cannot.
But on Tuesday I still had high hopes. I went to the bank armed with my canned statement: Bonjour! Je travaille avec Katrina et je suis ici pour finir de signer les papiers. I practiced it all the way through the park, avoiding the gazes of the pensive dudes smoking on their benches. I got to the bank, and I was stoked to give my spiel. But the man at the front desk had no idea what I was trying to say, even after I dropped all pretenses of an accent. He tried to save me, asking a flurry of questions in French. But therein lies the rub. When you ask a question in French, you receive an answer in French, which you may not comprehend: Attempt and flail. Or make no attempt and fail.
I wanted to abort the mission, but I was already in too deep, so I gave the guy Katrina’s card, and eventually she emerged with a stack of papers.
“Bonjour! This is it, non?”
I began signing the papers, and as I did, I noticed that a short flourishy signature kept appearing above the blank space where I was signing. “Boz.” Who’s Boz? I wondered. Must be the branch manager.
But then the name appeared again. And again. And again, printed next to another name I didn’t recognize. And suddenly it became clear: ‘Boz’ was the name of the account holder. And I was signing his papers. I had to explain to Katrina that Boz was not my husband. My name was Meg. And there had been some mistake.
“But I asked you, ‘is this right?’ and showed you the stack of papers and you said ‘yes.’”
Which was true. I’d been so busy vamping that I hadn’t noticed the name ‘Boz’ scribbled at the top of the papers Katrina had shown me. I was trying so hard to acclimate that I hadn’t noticed I was signing someone else’s sensitive documents. Which, shouldn’t they require ID or something? But anyway, all this to say—when the Duolingo Bird pops up in your email and admonishes you for skipping your language practice, maybe listen to that little dude.