By Mike Pound
According to my wife, I did something that few people have done: I made a palace guard laugh.
Technically, the palace guard who I allegedly made laugh was a member of the Queen’s Guard, and my understanding is that he is not supposed to laugh.
You know the guys I mean. They are the British guys in the red uniforms with the big black hats that look like something a bear would wear to a prom. The guards are famous for their stoic behavior while tourists flock around them and try to make them crack their serious facades. I don’t know what the penalty for laughing is for a member of the Queen’s Guard, but it must be substantial because they seldom do.
My wife, our 15-year-old daughter, Emma, and I spent last week visiting London and Paris, and one day we had just wrapped up a tour of the Tower of London. As we were leaving, my wife and Emma spotted a member of the Queen’s Guard standing at attention at his post while tourists stood next to him and posed for pictures.
My wife and Emma thought it would be fun to have their picture taken with the guard, so we walked over and waited in line until it was our turn. While Emma and my wife walked up to the guard, I got ready to take their picture. Unfortunately, my camera decided to — to use a technical term — stop working.
Not wanting to hold up the line, I had Emma and my wife step away from the guard so the people behind us could take their pictures while I fiddled with my camera. Emma and my wife were not happy.
After I fixed my camera, Emma and my wife walked back to the guard. But before they did, Emma handed me her cellphone.
“Take a picture on my cellphone so I can put it on Instagram,” Emma said.
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what Instagram was.
First I took a picture of Emma and my wife on my camera. Then I started to take a picture on Emma’s cellphone, but when I looked at her cellphone, all I saw was a picture of me.
“There’s something wrong with the cellphone,” I said.
“Oh good Lord, you moron,” my wife said.
And that’s when my wife swears she heard the guard make a noise that sounded like a laugh.
“Maybe he was just clearing his throat,” I said to my wife later.
“Oh no,” my wife said. “He was laughing at you.”
“You mean he was laughing with me,” I said.
“No,” my wife said. “He was laughing at you.”
So, I guess all it takes to make a member of the Queen’s Guard laugh is to act like a moron.
Speaking of morons, I discovered that the best way to get French people to be nice to you is to let them know, upfront, that you are one.
I took French both in high school and in college, and the one phrase that helped me the most while I was in Paris was “Je suis un moron.”
There is a mistaken notion that French people, particularly French people from Paris, are rude. While that might be true sometimes, I think that’s because we Americans tend to act like morons. But when we act like morons, we tend to blame our moronic behavior on the French instead of on ourselves.
“I WANT SOME WINE!!! WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT? I’M SHOUTING AS LOUD AS I CAN.”
When you do that, a French person, even though he or she may have a doctorate in English, will play dumb and make you use a series of hand gestures to convey what you want.
But, if you walk into a store and say “Je suis un moron,” the French person will say, “Ah, a moron. Yes, how can I help you?” And the next thing you know, you are sitting at a table in an outdoor cafe eating a ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette and enjoying a bottle of wine.
So if you plan to visit Europe, just remember, to paraphrase Mel Brooks: It’s good to be the moron.
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