Once a while back a few friends, who are French, were over and one read a line of poetry, an awkward but clever metaphor that involved fruit (it was a while ago, I don't remember it exactly). I joked that if I had said that people would have just thought I didn't know how to speak properly, and everyone laughed. Too true.
A banker called me yesterday and told me I had aged out of my account and I had to sign some papers to get a new one, so I went today. I have a hate/hate relationship with French banking - the people you interact with are always incompetent, they have hidden fees for things I didn't know people could be charged for (including receiving wire transfers, checking your account online, and a monthly fee just for having an account), and everything takes so... much... time.
The French aren't known for their customer service, a skill that Americans invented and excel at in the same way a fish excels at swimming. On the other hand, the French banking system didn't crash the global economy in 2007, so they get some credit.
The woman was in her early 20's and wore a red wool blazer with shoulder pads - not company uniform, but her own personal choice. She looked up at the ceiling when she had to recite a sales pitch, and every five minutes or so it seemed like she remembered that she was supposed to ask me about my personal life and look like she cared. I was charmed.
She went over my civil information to ask what had changed since last year. I told her that I was no longer single, but PACSé. She asked if my partner was at that bank, I said no. She asked how long my partner, she, was at her bank, I replied that my partner, he, has been there for over a decade and isn't thinking about changing.
I don't much care if people assume I'm straight. Most people are and it's not that big of a deal in casual conversation. I just use correct pronouns and continue.
But at around the sixth or seventh time the banker referred to my partner with "she," I had to wonder if she was doing it on purpose. It's not like I wasn't responding with "he," and they don't sound similar in French that she just didn't hear. I mean, maybe she just couldn't deal with two guys loving each other. This was the same neighborhood where, a year and a half ago, Alberto and I held hands in a restaurant and the waitress turned around, screamed, and ran off (we were already leaving), and where almost three years ago Alberto and I got kicked out of another restaurant for kissing only to get into a fight with another customer who was all People just don't kiss in public, it's not homophobia and Alberto was all What alternate universe are you living in? This is Paris!
It wasn't until the banker asked if she (my partner) was French or American, both gendered words and both in the feminine, that I replied with Lui il est fran¸ais - Him, he's French (male) - that I think she got it. Three gender indicators in a short sentence. She couldn't blame that on bad pronunciation.
Before leaving, after she stuck me with a higher monthly fee for a bank account that will still charge me for receiving wire transfers, she gave me a brochure and said, "Give this to your partner, if he's looking to change banks. You see how I keep on trying until the last minute!"
Yeah, he won't be changing banks any time soon.
But it's just one of those things that happens when you have an accent - people assume "language problem" instead of "Oh, this person actually meant to say whatever thing I didn't expect."