An elderly British gentleman was holidaying in Paris with his french-born wife when she died. She had asked to be buried in France and he thought he would give her a stylish British sendoff.
He booked the Madeleine for the morning in question and decided to tog himself out in traditional city garb. All that was missing was the bowler hat so he set out to find one.
His first problem was linguistic. He had never heard of such a thing in French so he rang up a French acquaintance for advice.
"I've had a problem with my wife and I need to get a bowler quick" he said.
"What is that?" asked the friend.
"Well, it's a typically British hat, worn only on special occasions"
"Ah!" said the acquaintance, whose translation skills were not quite up to scratch, "you must mean a capote anglaise", which, of course, is not a hat at all but a condom.
"Where would I get one of those?"
"In any of the grands magasins!"
The man was a little taken aback at the apparent ready availability of such a typically British item in Paris, but, nevertheless, set out to purchase one at Lafayette.
He entered the store and asked at the customer service desk: "Je veux acheter une capote anglaise, s'il vous plaît?"
"Bien sûr monsieur, il y en a plusieurs tout au fond du magasin!"
As he went down the store he was becoming more and more puzzled. Instead of hats and other items of clothing, he seemed to be heading towards the cosmetics and pharmacy section of the shop.
"Never mind" he thought to himself "it must have something to do with the French mindset."
He finally found himself at a counter serving shaving accessories, contraceptive devices and the like.
"Ah well, here goes" he thought. "Je veux acheter une capote anglaise, si'l vous plaît" he said.
The female assistant looked him in the eye. "Bien sûr monsieur. Quelle couleur voulez vous?"
"Noir, ma femme est morte!"
"Ah monsieur, quelle finesse!"
(from the 1960s, with thanks to Harry Owens.)