Tuesday, September 14, 2010

School Daze

It has come to my attention that my Monday Memories articles are confusing. In fact, sometimes I confuse myself. Particulary when I post them on Tuesday instead of Monday. So here's how it goes. Monday Memories means I wrote the article a year ago...during my first year in France. I was writing them for a newspaper back home but I think they tell a fun story. So I use them. Today's article is a Monday Memory. On Tuesday. Tomorrow's will be real time. If I can manage to get myself back on REAL TIME.

Yesterday was my first day of school. I did not buy a new pencil box, fresh crayons or new shoes and I did not write my name and address on the inside label of my jacket. However, the night before I was nervous and excited and sleep was hard to come by. Some things just never change, I guess.

This is an intensive French course that I will attend for 4 hours each day, 5 days per week for 12 weeks.  I took one French course when I first arrived. It was a course mainly for Au Pairs and others who are new to the country and need some basic French to get around. You know…. “How much is that tomato?”, “I would like 6 slices of beef tongue, please.”, “Do you have these shoes in a larger size that will actually fit a large person of Danish/German descent?” (Ok, they didn’t teach us that entire sentence), “Does this bus pass any vineyards with free tastings?”,  “Will you please speak more slowly?”, “I would like a coffee and a chocolate croissant please”, “No thank you, that is too expensive.”, and “Do you have any clothing in a color other than black?”

These are simple but important things.

They did not teach us to say,  “My Carte Bleu doesn’t work for the third time and I know there’s enough money in the account”. Or “My computer has been stolen off the bus and I really think the bus driver took it.”. Or  “I need insurance for my new apartment but I only need to cover damage to the structure caused by my own stupidity because, in fact, I have no real belongings.” Or “Please take the red wine back. It’s cold and the only reason you are serving it that way is because it’s cheap and you probably opened it 3 days ago.” Or  “No officer, I am not a thief and I did not steal those items. I would like to register both a harassment and a character defamation complaint.”

 These problems are not so simple and require a little more command of the language!

So yesterday I woke up at 6:30. Well, I got up at 6:30; I had actually been awake for a lot longer. I did a bit of verb conjugation study and headed to school for the 8:30 bell, exactly as my email instructed. When I got to the head of the line of students of all ages and nationalities, I was told I really didn’t need to be there until 9. I went for coffee, regurgitated the conjugations, and returned at 9. I was then informed that there had been an email error and today my class didn’t actually begin until 2. Oky dokey…. I’m used to this!

At 2 o’clock I sat down with my new class. There are 8 of us and we represent the same number of countries: Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Finland, England and the United States. This was to be a day of testing so first we had to do an oral presentation about ourselves and ask and answer questions. Vreni, the woman from Switzerland who is “older” like me, began. She began rattling off French like a pro and the more she talked, the deeper I slid down into my straight-backed school chair. Uh oh! I think I’m in deep doo doo. It was my turn and I began my presentation by saying that I am quite sure I’m in the wrong class.  The teacher made me continue and I struggled through my story.

After I was finished, one of the girls in the class asked the Swiss woman and I if we should be addressed as “vous” or “tu”. Both of these words mean “you” but vous is the formal form and tu is familiar. Unless you are good friends, you should not address another person as tu unless you’ve asked to do so or if you’re in a familiar situation…like a classroom. But vous is also a sign of respect for someone of a greater station or someone who is older.  Since we are all students our station was obviously not the reason for the question! Vreni and I both laughed and assured them they could call us “tu” but deep down inside I wanted to knock off the head of that sweet, young thing!

Then we began the listening portion of the test. This one was not so difficult. You really only need to get the gist of the conversation which I’m now an expert at and I aced it! So maybe I’ll get demoted, maybe I won’t. But this ain’t going to be easy! Everything is taught in French and no English is allowed so I guess it’s sink or swim.

I’m getting ready for day two right now. It’s chilly out today so I have to get out a pair of jeans that I have not worn for 4 months. And I really don’t know which is worse. …Trying to squeeze this fall’s body into last year’s jeans or drowning in verb conjugations.  Either one is going to leave me gasping for breath, I’m sure.



  1. I loved the list of things they did not teach you to say but you thought that they should!

    I have a habit of addressing my husband as 'vous',goodness only knows how that came about...which causes dark suspicion in the French bosom that we are not the impoverished scarecrows they think we are from my gardening trousers and his jersey, as older 'upper crust' couples so address each other.

  2. I like these posts from your first year. What a difference a year makes, I'd bet, in relation to knowing the language.

  3. Fly- starting back at the University this month. A French University. Now, THAT should be interesting! I have so many more things I need to learn to say. Like "a real man doesn't beat his girlfriend, you no good, noisy, abhorrent son of a bitch (referencing my neighbor).

    Lisa- Like I said to Fly...there are still so many things to learn! But I'm getting there.

  4. Oh no, I didn't realize you started this week! What a switch from last week...
    Love all the phrases you simply must learn to get along...
    When you have a chance, Delana, write or call. I too am drowning in so many things. Crisis with my real work, when I was in Paris, so many emails. Minor crisis at the new house. etec. etc. and so it goes.
    I loved loved loved our day at the brocante!
    Oh, and check out Parisian Salon: Claudia posted a picture of all of us that night.

  5. It was lovely to meet you in Paris and just sorry I didn't get much of a chance to hear your story. But i know you had a lovely chat with Vicki and hope you enjoyed the meet. I shall though enjoy reading your blog as it looks wonderful. All the best.

  6. ooh la la! I have recently discovered that I can audio record on my computer and create a CD of myself. I tried to do some reading from an English book about French Food and REALLY struggled with some of the French food names. And I actually thought that I was ok.It's the unfamilar names and odd spellings that get me.

  7. I loved reading your post and especially your first day at school! isn't it funny some things never change and especially a first day at school ~ still the same nerves and feelings of inadequacy. I am in my 3rd year of French I love it on paper but if anyone speaks to me in french I absolutely freeze! eek what did they say!!! I'll look forward to reading more about your year.

  8. Libby- hope you're all settled in back home. I will try to call tomorrow. It was so much fun to meet you and all the others. I wish there had been more time.

    Sande-it was great to meet you too. Alas, not enough time. Your blog is lovely. Really lovely. I hope your over the jet lag and can't wait to see your Paris posts.

    Phil-Yes, unfamiliar words and odd spellings. That's....
    ANOTHER LANGUAGE! Too much for my aging brain I think

    Dianne-thank you so much for visiting my blog. I'm just waiting to be able to understand TV, the radio and a telephone conversation. Still all impossible. Yikes!

  9. You go girl. I'm on a break from French class and I'm impressed by your dedication!!

  10. Hi Julie- I've had a break from class since December. And I've been speaking English since May. It's time to hunker down. Hope you're well


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