How to Connect With Native Speakers

I failed.
She gave me a stern look. It was 20 years ago in France, and in French I said politely, nicely, and with a smile to an older boutique clerk: “Bonjour, comment allez-vous?” (“Hello, how are you?”).

I had pretty good pronunciation because I practiced it so much, so I was clear, and I was friendly, and gave her the customary greeting I would give in English.

I couldn’t figure it out: Was she mad? Why did it feel like she didn’t want me there? The experience was awkward, seemingly for both of us. And this . . .

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