I am the guy who figured that he had ordered a second cup of espresso in a French café and ended up buying a round for the house. (I said "two" in English which sounds a lot like "tout"--meaning "all" in French).
Or in simply mispronouncing Il fait chaud ("today is hot") I got a cabbage salad (choux).
So now, I limit my French to a pair of expressions that seem to take care of mamy circumstances. They are:
“En panne,” pronounced on pawn,
“Encore,” pronounced just like we say when we want the fat lady to sing again.
Here are some situations in which you may encounter en panne:
You have just called for a doctor after consuming a café drink in which the English translation read: “Mediterranean sea devil.” When the medic arrives at your hotel door, just point to the upper or lower abdomen -- as the case may be -- and whimper, “En panne!” (Note: this works equally well with faulty cameras, keys that don’t fit and broken shoelaces.)
You have been drinking strong French coffee all morning. Your hotel is 10 blocks away and there’s only one public toilet along that route. A plumber in high rubber boots meets you at the door of that convenience and -- always with a smile -- shrugs: “En panne.”
You are 10 euros into a 20-euro taxi ride when the turn-of-the-century Citroen coughs and wheezes to a stop. After directing a few crisp French phrases at the automobile's motor and then apparently extending his discussion to include the parentage of the Citroen family, the driver turns to you and with a futile gesture reports: “En panne, 35 francs please.”
In an attempt to reach the Basilica of Sacre Coeur atop the highest hill of Paris, you have taken the wrong bus and walked 15 blocks—all in the joyous realization that there is a public funicular to the top of the mountain. Upon arrival at the funicular, however, you notice that the main wheel is off the thingamabob. A greasy mechanic glances up to scowl, “En panne.”
Now we are ready for an altogether happier word, encore.
For two nights you have attempted to cope with the French menu and have received in return: calf’s kidney in ginger sauce topped with strawberries or raw hamburger under a raw egg. You stand up, glance around for plate of good old American steak and potatoes, point to it and cry triumphantly, “Encore!”
Same as situation one, except for three days you’ve craved a martini and have received a milky yellow drink. Just spot a martini somewhere and yell, “Encore!” (Sometimes this will put the other martini drinker on your tab as well, but it’s worth it.)
Everyone in town seems to have discovered a beautiful set of gilded Eiffel Tower bookends, a gift that would be perfect for Aunt Nessie. Just go into any shop across from Notre Dame, point outside to someone carrying a set of Eiffel Tower bookends and say with a knowing wink, “Encore.” The manager probably thought the season was over, and had put away his supply.
Lastly, you thought you had ordered a glass of water but instead received a chilled yellowish drink. Darned if it doesn’t turn out to be surprisingly tasty on a warm day. For a refill, just say, “Encore.”