That’s her, the one standing next to the white board. I know she looks harmless enough, but she can crush you with a single glance. She’s my French teacher, Christine. She’s the stereotypical disdainful French person. Oddly enough, the only French people I’ve ever met who fit that particular stereotype are French teachers. I guess you’d be disdainful too if you had to teach a pack of dunderheads your native language.
Every Tuesday night along with 15 or so other people of various nationalities—Denmark, Lebanon, Russia, Spain, German, China, Phillipines, UK, Italy to name a few– I spend an hour and a half quaking in terror that this woman will turn her inquisitive gaze in my direction. Well, some of that time, my shoulders are quaking from laughing so hard at somebody else who has the misfortune of being called on.
I started the class several months ago when I realized that I’d never get beyond kindergarten level French (probably closer to pre-school) without some help. The classes are five minutes from my apartment and cost around 70 Euros for the term.
I’ve learned a lot so far. For example, Christine taught me the word paresseux. Well, she hissed it at me one night. I went home, googled it and discovered it means “lazy”. Je ne suis pas paresseux, j’ai peur, you BITCH!
I usually spend Tuesdays trying to think of excuses why I can’t go to class. I’m coming down with something. Everyone else is coming down with something. I’m a little tired and I need to rest up for the Bastille day celebrations next July. It might rain. The cat puked on my homework. I spent the whole day coming up with excuses why I can’t go, and now I can’t go because I need to do the stuff I neglected when working on excuses not to go. My tongue feels weird. At 4:50PM (16:50), I get dressed and go to class.
Tonight’s class pretty much goes like any other.
Christine: Bonsoir. Avez vous un bon weekend?
The entire class (except the two goody-goodies, the German man and Asian woman) tries to avoid eye contact with her because they know what’s coming next. I pretend I just remembered something and dig furiously through my purse.
She addresses, Taxi, who is the only other American in the class. Taxi is an African American from Florida, 50-ish, with a bit of a drawl which is either Southern influence or because he’s under the influence.
Christine: Taxi. Avez-vous un bon weekend?
Taxi: Ma weekend a …fair to middling.
Christine (correcting him sharply): Mon weekend a été.
Taxi: Mon weekend a ete fair to middling.
Christine looks confused. I’m trying really hard not to laugh. The cute Lebanese guy, Michel and I exchange glances, which sets us both off giggling.
Taxi: Ma weekend a f…
Christine (deep sigh): Mon weekend a été…
Taxi: Mon weekend a ete fair to middling…
Chrstine looks questioningly at class.
Christine: “qu’est-ce que c’est fair to middling?”
Everyone else in the class looks totally blank, which makes sense, since I’m the only one here who speaks American English and is old enough to know what fair to middling means.
I want to tell them that it’s a somewhat archaic colloquial phrase which roughly translates to “comme ci comme ca”, but I’m laughing and I can’t remember how to say “comme ci, comme ca” which makes me laugh harder. I’m finally able to gasp out the words: Fair to middling est the meme chose a okay” and put my head down and laugh convulsively while the conversation stumbles forward.
Taxi: Mon weekend a ete okay. Je travail sur mon bateau j’ai les clients
Christine (tired, giving up): J’ai travaille sur mon bateau parce que je suis eu les clients…
Taxi: Oui. Et je played pool avec mes amis.
At this point Christine snorts with utter contempt and begins scanning the room for her next victim. Once again, we all avoid making eye contact with her.
The British woman sitting next to me looks like the proverbial dear caught in the headlights. She’s practically quivering with fear. Her every muscle is tensed for flight. Or perhaps she’s just using all her energy trying to become invisible. Displaying that sort of fear only invites Christine’s attention and sure enough, the quivering British woman is called. I giggle in relief. I LOVE the British woman. It’s as if all my fears are somehow projected onto her.
Christine: Qu’avez vous fait le weekend dernier?
The British woman’s eyes get even wider, I can see the whites all the way around her pupils. Her voice quavers and she answers r e a l l l l l l y s l o w w w w l y. I’m afraid she might have a stroke.
British woman: J ai trav….no….fai…je …je dormi.
Christine: J’ai dormi.
British woman: Oui….J’ai dormi …et….je ….je….lit!!!! Lit?
Christine: J’ai lit…
This goes on for 20 minutes until Christine finally changes the subject because the British woman still hasn’t finished the sentence and has become a tan colored puddle of sweat in her chair.
Once again, Christine addresses the class and we all look in different directions.
Christine: Qu’est ce que c’est la difference entre passé compose and plus que parfait?
We all politely allow the Chinese girl to answer. She reads from a handwritten page. She sounds like she’s speaking perfect French but with a Chinese accent so it’s totally incomprehensible.
I’m fairly certain that Christine doesn’t understand a word the girl is saying, but assumes she’s correct (she’s Asian after all). Christine nods and scrawls on the board.
While Christine teaches us the difference between the word “sain” (health) and “sein” (breast) she grabs her breast to illustrate “sein”. Taxi, who appeared to be elsewhere until this moment, comes alive and shouts out “YES! Finallement un mot I can USE!”
We all laugh for the last15 minutes of class, and I manage to escape with my dignity unscathed and my face streaked with tears (fortunately, of laughter this time).
On my way home, I reflect on the class. That wasn’t so bad. Damn, that was hilarious. And I learned something. I’m really glad I went. Now, how am I going to get out of it next week?