Over the course of the past three weeks, I've had a variety of friends come to visit me here in Paris. They can be categorized in the following three groups:
Some who speak no French at all
They do things like: drink from the wine carafe rather than their glass; they walk up to the window of an ice cream shop and say, Au Revior!; or they bump against a woman's breast on the dance floor and when she slaps them, they respond with Merci!
Some who speak a little French
They successfully buy telephone cards for the pay phone and figure out how to call my American mobile. They order beers at bars and buy bottles of wine at the corner store. They order their dinner in French and get what they expect.
Some who are fluent in French and studied it for 15 years
They walk into the tabac and ask the Madame behind the counter for les tampons. She regretfully responds that she does not sell them. The friend exits, confused, only to realize on the street that he's asked for tampons and not les timbres, or what he actually wanted: stamps.