Humor of Buying French Bread is from a book by humorist Bill Bryson titled 'Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe' pages 41-42.
This excerpt is about struggling to use his schoolboy French years later to try to communicate during a trip to France.
On my first trip to Paris, I kept wondering: “Why does everyone hate me so much?”
Fresh off the train, I went to the tourist booth at the Gare du Nord, where a severe young woman in a blue uniform looked at me as if I were infectious.
“What do you want?” she said, or at least seem to say.
“I’d like a room please,” I replied, instantly meek.
“Fill this out.” She pushed a long form at me. “Not here. Over there.” She indicated with a flick of her head a counter for filling out forms,
then turned to the next person in line and said: “What do YOU want?”
I was amazed--I came from a place (Iowa) where EVERYONE was friendly, where even funeral home directors told you to have a nice day as you left to bury your grandmother--
but I soon learned that everyone in Paris was like that.
You would go into a bakery and be greeted by a vast sluglike creature with a look that told you you would never be friends.
In halting French you would ask for A SMALL LOAF OF BREAD.
The woman would give you a long, cold stare and then put a dead beaver on the counter.
“No, no,” you would say, hands aflutter, “not a dead beaver. A loaf of BREAD.”
The sluglike creature would stare at you in patent disbelief, then turn to the other customers and address them in French at much too high a speed for you to follow, but the drift of which clearly was that this person here, this AMERICAN TOURIST, had come in and asked for a dead beaver and now he was saying that he didn’t want a dead beaver at all, he wanted a loaf of bread.
The other customers would look at you as if you had just tried to fart in their handbags, and you would have no choice but to slink away and console yourself with the thought that in another four days you would be in Brussels and probably able to eat again.