Should I come face-to-face with a wine crisis, meaning that there was none, and the market was closed. Pas de problème! I could efficiently ask someone where the closest market was. Or how about if my stretched out ballet flat slips off my feet, falls through the wooden stairs of Pont Solferino leaving me no choice but to watch it float down the Seine like it did yesterday? Pas de souci! I could hobble into a nearby restaurant and politely ask them to call me cab, as I balance on one foot.
Still wanting to excel in my French, and to not just assume that I would figure it out once I was here, I decided to continue my studies in Paris and my determination to become a fluent speaker. Attending a new class would be a fresh start, and I had high hopes that I wouldn’t have the same problems that I had in New York. In New York, our teacher was distractingly good-looking, making concentrating on our lessons increasingly difficult with each passing class. Whenever he would call on me, I reverted to my inner-fourth grader and would turn a deep shade of red, nervously drop my pen and refuse to respond, ignoring the fact that it’s generally a requirement to speak in a language class. It was uncomfortable for him, me, and not to mention the rest of the class who knew that I was majorly chaud for teacher. Expectation # 1 in Paris: Hope that new French teacher will be a wretched old shrew.
A week before class, I took an online placement exam, was pleased with the level I was put in, and arrived wide eyed and bushy-tailed for my first French class in Paris! Bonjour la France! Unlike my New York class where there was a maximum of nine students, my class in Paris had over thirty, taking away the intimate learning atmosphere I had grown accustomed to. The teacher on the other hand, exceeded all expectations regarding my request. Madame Cours was certainly wretched, in her late sixties, and wore a purple mohair sweater where somehow the fuzz from it managed to find itself on her two front teeth. She was skinny, pursed-lipped and cold. Her icy demeanor gave me the sneaking suspicion that she couldn’t care less about the joys of teaching her language to hopeful foreigners. She skipped first day introductions, ignored the fact that we had actual names, and slammed a cassette player from 1976 on to the desk for us to listen to awkward dialogue while she read the latest copy of the French tabloid Oops!. After the recording, she asked the class what had happened in the dialogue between the hotel clerk and Madame Martin. The students all competitively spoke over one another, desperate to answer her inane questions, and getting flustered that their attempts to gain her approval were blatantly ignored. I found their enthusiasm completely useless. Didn’t they pick up on the fact that she didn’t care about our progress, and was far more concerned with the reunion episode of Secret Story? How was I the only one privy to her indifference?
Week three of class was just as painful as the week one; no one spoke, only the click from Spain in the corner, and even though we were familiar with each other’s faces, our regard for one another ended there. On a sunny autumn day in Paris, Madame Cours began the lesson with a topic on stereotypes, “Les Stéréotypes” to accurately paint the picture. To get the ball rolling, Madame volunteered some typical stereotypes of the French and allowed us to participate with some of our own observations. There was a mention of berets, baguettes, snails, and smoking. In my opinion, a few of the key cliches were left out, but since it’s a classroom, there is a responsibility of the teacher to keep it a politically correct platform and to not offend other cultures. Fair enough. We moved on to Spain and breezily mentioned guitar players, siestas and bull fighting. We all nodded in agreement. Suddenly one of the guys who we all thought was part of the crew from Spain reveled that he was actually from Columbia. Talk about throwing us a curve ball. The class being a bit stumped finding a friendly stereotype, offered that when we think of Columbia, we think of the heat. That’s it, according to to our class, the only stereotype associated with Columbia is that it’s just really hot there. Moving on. Australia had its surfers, and Russia had beautiful women and vodka. Everyone expressed respectful and complimentary stereotypes of everyone’s home land.
And then my turn was up, The United States. Suddenly the whole room was staring at me in disgust, and the only things that came to the minds of my classmates in regard to my country was obesity, tax evasion, greed, filth, hormone-fed products and George Bush.
Not even wanting to indulge in being offended, my brain could only focus on one question. Where was all of this vocabulary suddenly coming from? These were the same people who twenty minutes ago couldn’t speak in the past tense but were now somehow able to say tax evasion and free-range poultry in French? Did I skip a class? If I knew it was this kind of game, my last hour wouldn’t have been so painful listening to obsolete cliches, and would have certainly mentioned Pablo Escobar, the famous coke lord from Median when Silva confessed that he was from Columbia! I would have loved to been able to say that in French! The neglect for my needs was mounting. Being more confused than irritated, I tried to negotiate the direction this lesson was going with Madame Cours, and requested if we could narrow it down to New York where perhaps the stereotypes would be less general. Madame Cours looked at me and gave me a curt “Non.” Clearly she was getting evil pleasure out of this and hates America. Clearly. The topic of stereotypes was immediately dismissed, never to be mentioned again, and Madame had us revisit our plus-que-parfait which she called horrendous and accused us of not absorbing a thing in the three weeks she had been teaching us.
I never continued onto week four of class and just found a French boyfriend who made the learning process much more enjoyable. While my plus-que-parfait is far from parfait and my subjonctif could use a fine tune-up, leaving that class was best thing for my sanity as well as my bank account. I do sometimes wonder whatever happened to my fellow classmates. Did they stay in class? Are they still in Paris? How’s their French? As I approach my three year anniversary in France, I look back on these moments that were once the bane of my existence, to now, funny anecdotes of a time I am now nostalgic for. I long for the days of being naive, and curious, but remain enchanted and grateful to be living in Paris; a city I now call home.
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