Would You Like Pepperoni on That?

Pizza in the south of France

Pizza in the south of France

According to my husband, the true test of language proficiency is whether or not you can order a pizza over the phone.

We’ve all been there. Room full of friends, maybe studying together, watching a game, or just hanging out. People get hungry. Someone suggests ordering a pizza. One person shouts out, “Mushrooms!” and another, “Pepperoni!” while a third person says, “I’m a vegetarian. No meat!”

As anyone who has tried to learn a second language can attest, when more than one person speaks at a time, conversation becomes tangled and it can be impossible to comb it out and discern what’s being said.

Then there’s the phone call. It’s hard enough to understand your non-native tongue in person, let alone over the phone. Add to that the fact that the person working at the pizza place is often foreign as well. So, two people are trying to communicate with each other in their non-native language over the phone. For my husband here in southern California, that means a French guy talking to a native Spanish speaker in English. For me in France, I often found myself talking to north Africans whose native tongue was Arabic. Chances are you’re using a cell phone, too, which despite our advances in technology still can’t compete with a landline in terms of quality.

My husband describes it this way:

“The trouble starts when they ask for your phone number. In French, we always say: eighty-five, nineteen, etc. In the U.S., phone numbers are stated one digit at a time. So the person on the other end of the line ends up confused. I’m trying to understand what the pizza guy is saying while everyone in the room is shouting their likes, dislikes, what size pizza, etc. I have to ask the pizza guy to repeat everything three or four times and now he’s annoyed. People keep yelling out ingredients. The pizza guy asks if we want pepperoni. I heard someone say they were vegetarian. But pepperoni, that must be the same as the Italian word: peperoni, which is a type of pepper. That’s not meat, right? So I say, ‘Yes, pepperoni.’”

Miraculously, the pizza arrives. And it’s not the pizza that anyone wanted.

Vieux Antibes

Vieux Antibes

I had a similar experience in Antibes, the south of France. My friends decided that my French was the best among us, so I should order the pizza. We knew of one place that delivered.  We’d been there in person before to order and hadn’t had the most… positive experience with the guy there. So, crossing my fingers in hopes that someone other than the guy we’d dealt with would answer the call, I dialed the pizza place. Mr. Personality answered. His Arabic accent was thick and he had a short fuse. I did my best, ordered two pizzas, one “Reine” (olives, mushrooms, and prosciutto) for my friend and I to split, and a second pizza covered in meat for our other friend (she was 8 months pregnant, adorable, and ravenous).

Then we waited. And waited. He finally showed up. With one pizza. It wasn’t either of the pizzas we’d ordered. He also claimed he had no change. We argued with him. This isn’t what we ordered! Why would you come here without any change? He became irate and insistent that the mistakes were ours and not his. My pregnant friend was about to pass out from hunger, so we took the pizza and he took a hefty tip.

We never ordered pizza from his store again. Pity, they made good pizza. Thin, crispy crust, flavorful cheese, fresh toppings…. The south of France has the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, outside of Italy. Even when they get the order wrong.

Ordering food in a foreign language is an adventurous undertaking. Even something that seems as simple as pizza. The day I can confidently order a pizza over the phone in France, I’m popping open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Now I’m hungry.

Happy Spring! Here's me in a lavender field in the south of France.

Happy Spring! Here’s me in a lavender field in the south of France.


15 thoughts on “Would You Like Pepperoni on That?

  1. Last year we were in the town of Maussane in Provence and decided that we would get a take out pizza for lunch. Our choice was to wait for one or take an already prepared pizza. The owner assured us that the pizza with potato chips on it was wonderful. So we tried it. Lets say it was definitely different.

    • Yeah, I’ve tried more things by accident than I care to admit. Sometimes it turns into a pleasant surprise, other times, not so much. I lived on falafels for days on my first trip to Europe. Cheap, and I knew what they were!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: Would You Like Pepperoni on That? | TERRES DE FRANCE | Estate Agents

  3. Nice observation on cultural and linguistic differences. I speak 4 languages on a daily basis these days, English, Korean, French and Turkish. Each language brings out different me. Right now I’m trying to learn French and the pronunciation of “R” is frustrating me.

    Ah, could you recommend the best town for a lavender field trip? 🙂

    • The French “R” is the bane of my existence at the moment 🙂 Four languages, and such different ones, too! Impressive!

      As for lavender, the best time of year is July and August. The Abbaye de Sénanque, where my photo is from, is stunning. It’s near Gordes, which I think is in the Luberon area – a great area in general for lavender.

  4. I’m not sure if I am looking forward to my many communication errors I will be making while in France or not:) I just hope I can manage to order more than bread and salad!

  5. That is so true! The first time I successfully ordered a Pizza (made the call AND the order was delivered correctly), I was so happy! I still make my husband call most of the time, a part of me still think they are gonna mess up my order if I’m the one that makes the call! Old habits die hard…

  6. I’m a bit late to this pizza party, but here goes.

    I remember living in Taiwan and always having pizza on a Sunday after playing soccer. We had one guy who could speak passable Chinese, but it was always a struggle. One day he phoned up and they had an English speaker on the other end of the phone. That was a great day!

    I can now order pizza here in Brazil, but if I have the opportunity I will get almost anyone else to do it first.

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