I walked out of our hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to the parking lot and found a man taking a photo of my license plate.
Assuming he was CIA, FBI or just plain ODD, I approached him with caution. But before I could utter a word, he turned to me and pointed to my minivan.
“Eeez zees jours?” he asked with a thick, smooth French accent that suddenly took him from suspicious to intriguing, “Eeez nice!”
(I should explain at this point that I have a Kansas breast cancer research and outreach license plate. And, with a sunflower wrapped in a pink ribbon and “Driven to Cure” tagline, they are indeed very nice.)
“Thank you,” I replied, which is where I should have stopped. But instead I felt compelled to tell him and his wife and kids, who had joined us in the parking lot, why I have this plate.“My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and she presented the idea for these license plates to her state senator a few years ago,” I started, using as little French as possible. “The plates fund clinical trials for cancer treatment.”
The kindly Frenchman looked confused. It seemed I needed to use more French in my monologue, but my French is limited to counting to 12 and ordering escargot. So I resorted to what most ignorant Americans do when trying to communicate in a foreign language and acted out my words while speaking slowly and slightly louder for clarification.
“My mom… ” I said, pointing southeast toward Overland Park, “… had breast cancer… ” I continued, making a sad face and pointing to my chest, “… and this license plate… ” I went on, pointing to the back of my car, “… raises money… ” international sign for money is rubbing your thumb to your forefinger and middle finger, right? “… to find a cure,” I finished, triumphantly waving my arms like an orchestra conductor at the end of a concerto.
He did not understand a word. Worse, he seemed to want to. I tried again using different English words.
“Yes! Had cancer? Sick? Breast?”
“Yes! This plate raises money for a cure? Dollars? All better?”
“Oui! Dollars! Est cure!
”Excited by the news, he turned to his wife to explain. It sounded something like this: “Est mother, (French, French, French), est cancer, (French, French, French), est cure (pointing to license plate)!” He turned to me to clarify, “Cure?”
“Oui,” I answered, “All better now.
”We said goodbye, and off they drove.
So if a news story breaks out of Paris detailing how an American suburban mom found a way to cure cancer with license plates, or how American cancer survivors must register their cars differently, or any other butchered version of this conversation, you will know why.More importantly, know this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Schedule that mammogram, renew those monthly self-exams and then remind a friend to do it too.
La vie est belle.