Parisian Tex-Mex affords a vacation for the palate

May 16, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

I am standing on the Boulevard St. Germain in Paris explaining to this Frenchman why "Indiana Tex-Mex" is a stupid name for a restaurant.

Tex-Mex food is the latest rage in Paris. They hate Disneyland, but they like fajitas. Go figure.

The French are still having difficulty with the nuances, however, which is why on the Boulevard St. Germain there is a restaurant called "Indiana Tex-Mex."

I am trying to explain the silliness of this to a Frenchman by using one of those handy phrase books that travelers are advised to carry.

"J'ai attrape une urticaire dont je n'arrive pas a me guerir," I say, which is the first phrase I come to in the book.

I later learn this means: "I've got a terrible rash that won't go away."

Which may be why the Frenchman takes a step backward.

So I switch to the Universal Language, which, as we all know, is English spoken very loudly and slowly.

"Why Indiana Tex-Mex?" I bellow at the guy. "What does Indiana have to do with Tex-Mex?"

"In-dee-ahn-a is ze place of ze Indians, no?" the Frenchman says. "And wiz ze Indians, you have ze Tex-Mex."

Which, once again, makes me wonder why we bothered to win two world wars for these guys.

"Indiana is the place of no Indians," I say. "Indiana is the place of, of . . ."

I am momentarily stumped. What is Indiana known for?

"Indiana is the place of the Fighting Irish," I say.

Which is a big mistake. Because now the French guy starts babbling about world politics and about the IRA and how to end the bombings.

"No, no, no, not that kind of Fighting Irish," I say. "Indiana is where Notre Dame is."

"But Notre Dame," the Frenchman says, pronouncing it funny, "is zere." And he points over his shoulder toward the Seine.

"Let me start all over," I say. "There are no Indians in Indiana. There were once upon a time, but not anymore."

The Frenchman ponders this.

"You have been to ze In-dee-ahn-a?" he asks.

"Yeah, yeah, many times," I say.

"When is ze last time?" he asks.

L I think. "I dunno, I guess maybe about 10 years ago," I say.

"Voila!" he says. "In 10 years, ze Indians may have come back!"

Which is the French Attitude: They are never wrong about anything, especially those things they know absolutely nothing about.

And this is but one reason I love France so much. I have always had wonderful times there and I encourage you to go, if you have not done so already.

Yes, I know what you have heard: If you don't speak French, you will be treated badly in France.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

I speak no French. The only phrase book I travel with is "Wicked French For the Traveler" by Howard Tomb, which contains nothing but funny, inappropriate and rude phrases such as: Pourquoi ne cherchez-vous pas un vrai boulot? Why don't you get a real job?

In fact, you do not have to speak a word of French to have a good time in France. In my experience, the French appreciate it more if you don't try to murder their language, but just try to speak your own.

I got into language trouble only once on my most recent trip to France, and this was in a restaurant.

Instead of trying to memorize a whole list of things that are safe to order, I have memorized just the things that can kill you:

Langue is tongue, ris de veau is sweetbreads of veal, rognons is kidneys, and cervelle is brains, for example.

So I go to the Brasserie Balzar near the Sorbonne for dinner one night and I settle on what I assume is safe: museau du bouef.

L At worst, I figured, this is beef that has been to a museum.

But I knew I had made a terrible mistake the minute the waiter complimented me on my choice.

"Tres bien!" he said. "Ze tourist zo rarely appreciates ze snout!"

Snout? I said.

"How you say, ze nostrils of ze cow," he said.

Right there I knew I could do one of two things:

Order something else or behave like a sophisticated world traveler who is not afraid to sample the culture and the food of other countries.

The fajitas were swell.

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