Tuesday, June 3, 2008


During my stint as an English teacher in France, I had thirteen classes of “eager” French primary students to occupy into delusion of actually learning something useful. By class # 12 on day two, I hit my natural reaction when faced with difficult situations – my face glazed over with an overly jaded expression, and the only words I could steadily process were “gratuit” (free), “chocolat” (chocolate), and “chocolat gratuit” (free chocolate). Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for the commentary of Charlène.[1]

Teacher 12 was nice enough, and the kids were admittingly adorable, especially Charlène. Then she opened her mouth. One might expect a jolly hello, or a welcome to France from something so cute, but Charlène’s first words were, “Ma mère a dit que les anglos sont fou!” (My mother said that English-speakers are crazy!). Since none of these words involved free chocolate, it took me a solid 5 minutes to process what she said, but when my brain finally decided to turn itself on, damn was I pissed.

Having the attention span of an average 8-year-old (roughly equivalent to a meat-head at a vegan convention), Charlène had no idea what I was talking about when I finally got a chance to confront this 8-year-old piece of work. My quest to stand up for English-speakers around the world didn’t go as valiantly as I pictured in my head, but I did manage to get a head-tilt and a sigh.

Charlène and I spent the next few weeks suspiciously eyeing each other until week 4, when I assigned the toughest of all assignments: draw a picture of your family and for each member write IN ENGLISH, a one-word relation to you. (Example: sister, brother, my guinea pig). After a little perusing, I noticed that dear Charlène wrote the following: “This is my mother, her name is Sabine. This is my father, his name is John.” The typical responses of other kids in the class consisted of something along the lines of “sester,” “bruzzer,” “muzzer”, and “mon oiseau”. Between Charlène’s genius response, and the fact that she listed her father as “John”, I finally added 2 + 2 to get 4, and asked if her father is a native English speaker.

He is, en fait, she said, along with, “Mes parents sont divorcés, il habite en Angleterre…ma mère lui déteste.” (My parents are divorced, he lives in England…my mother hates him.) If there are two reasons I understand French people hating English-speakers, it’s for our abysmal selection of crème fraîche, and bad divorces. It turns out Charlène can actually form a few sentences in English thanks to her father. From that day on, I often let her help “teach” the class the fabulous world of colors and numbers while I wandered off to find the free chocolate.

[1] Charlène’s real name has been changed to protect her 8-year-old identity, and because I can’t remember her real name.

No comments: