I went to the produce market today to buy salad ingredients for dinner. I looked around for a minute, then greeted one of the employees and asked for some mixed greens, a yellow onion, a bunch of local tomatoes, and a green pepper. He carefully measured out a couple handfuls of lettuce and bagged up the onion and tomatoes. But then he stopped.
“Vous voulez quoi?” he asked.
“Un poivre vert.” I replied. A green pepper. I pointed to my right where the peppers were on display.
“Vert,” he repeated hesitantly. “Quoi?” He seemed to have no clue what I’d just said, but I knew – 100% knew – that poivre was the word for pepper. Why wasn’t he understanding me?
“Un poivre vert?” I asked again, pointing emphatically at the green bell peppers.
The salesman looked back and forth between my pointer finger and the vegetable display. Then he laughed, which sadly is not an unusual occurrence when I speak French. I’m getting used to it. “Ah,” he said. “Un poivron vert!”
And with that, the French language foiled me again. Poivre is pepper the spice; poivron is a bell pepper. Although I would like to blame the French language for being confusing, in this case it seems that English is actually the worst offender. Why do we use one word to mean such different things?!
In any case, the salesman took it in stride and told me my French was very good. (Thanks for pretending!) And I ended up with a green bell pepper, so I guess you could say we communicated effectively, if not efficiently.