I was about to go to my first-ever French language-exchange gathering in Fukuoka. I had invited along my friend Max, intent on keeping our French fort et bien vivant — alive and kicking.

We got off the elevator on the third floor of a building in Chuo Ward and approached Sam's Bar TalkEigo, the location of the event. Suddenly, it dawned on us that we were possibly heading into an all-native-level mish-mash of French conversations. All the same, we crossed our fingers, opened the door and stepped into the simple, pleasant space.

As Max and I walked alongside the bar counter, the Francophile group came into view on our left — a bunch of them. I admit, we hesitated. However, that hesitation was long enough to meet a man, who introduced himself as "Sam" — the owner of the bar. With just the right combination of small talk and chai tea, Sam managed to get Max and I relaxed enough to join the French challenge and, c'était un grand succès (it was a success).