By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 31, 2008 at 10:05 AM

In preparation for a trip to Europe at the end of this month, which includes Paris and Strasbourg, I bought a set of CDs recently that boast they can teach you French by listening during your commute. That's a heady claim, but I figured they'd be good for my wife, who's already somewhere between conversational and fluent in Spanish, but doesn't know un mot de Francais.

I thought the CDs would also help me freshen up my French. After all, I took two years of college French, three years of high school French, and even one year of middle school French.

So by now, you'd think I'd be fully prepared, even though I haven't had to use all that accumulated knowledge in almost 12 years.

Non vrai.

I gave the first CD a passing listen, and then went right onto the third. I found it a little surprising that the topic was "Working with technology."

But I dove in, anyway, and immediately realized how rusty I was in the future conditional tense, and even worse when it came to vocabulary about computers. For some reason, they weren't teaching me about how to say "Web browser" in 1996.

So I laughed out loud when the narrator offered, "My computer has a virus and needs to be fixed."

That's when my mind wandered to a scenario in which my MacBook poops out in Paris and I decide to take it to the Apple Store on the Champs-Élysées (there isn't one, to the best of my knowledge, but bear with my daydream ...).

If you've ever been to an Apple Store, you know what it's like dealing with the "Genius Bar," a title so cocky it could've only been invented by Steve Jobs himself. Now I picture some even cockier sweaty Parisian dude, who despises my crappy French. We're discussing why I can't connect to the wi-fi network at my hotel.

I imagine the conversation to go something like this:

Me: "Excusez-moi, monsieur. I can't get online with my laptop."

Him: "Oui. Did you sign up online to schedule an appointment?"

Me: "No, I can't get online. That's why I'm here."

Him: "Zut alors! The earliest we can help you is tomorrow at 1900 hours."

Me: "See, I'm on vacation. I'd like to be at the Eiffel Tower tomorrow night. Is there any way you can look at my settings now?"

Him: "Ce n'est pas possible. Have you tried restarting?"

Me: "Yes. Twice."

Him: "I see. When did you buy your MacBook?"

Me: "In June."

Him: "Ah, oui. Then it is, how do you say in English, out of warranty. We can expedite the service, mon ami, for 100 Euros. It will be ready in seven to 10 business days."

Me: "I'll be home by then, thanks. I'll just use my Blackberry."

Him: "Au revoir, American. Have a safe trip home. And next time, make a reservation online."

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.