Tuesday, December 16, 2008


All right, so here are some scenes from recent weeks, with no relation to each other other than that they all made me happy.

A few weeks ago, Emilia and I were making our regular Sunday market trip and we stopped at the stand that sells yogurt and fruit juice and such for really really cheap to check what they had that week. The younger man who works there happened to be in front of the stall arranging packages, so he helped us put our juice in our bags (carefully avoiding crushing my chèvre) and generally made himself useful. As we were walking away, we heard him say to his co-worker, “Those are the regulars – they come every week!” So we were happy to be recognized and to have somewhere to be “regulars”. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that we’re young and foreign and female, either…

And another market vignette: two Sundays ago, Emilia and I were accosted (seriously, we were walking by minding our own business and they started yelling, “Les filles! Les filles! (Girls! Girls!)) by two young men selling cheese, wanting us to taste their wares. So we did, and they told us that it was very good with wine, as an apéritif, and that if we were having a party it was perfect. Then they gave us another one to taste, and said that they really liked it, so we should invite them to the party, and we were all laughing and joking, and the cheese was quite good, so I said I’d get some. One of them jokingly offered me the whole huge chunk, saying, “If you get this one, you’d have enough to invite us over for drinks…” and it was hilarious. I ended up getting a pretty big piece, and since I hadn’t looked at the price per kilo (which was probably their plan) it cost 11€. Cue heart attack, but then “for me” it was only 9€. Which was still a lot, but hey, I got a good story out of it, and Frenchmen make me happy. Then, last Sunday, they recognized us again and waved bits of cheese at us to taste, and we both said that we still had the cheese from last week, but they told us to taste it anyway, we weren’t obligated to buy anything. So we tasted, and they told us it would be good as an apéritif again… So we thanked them and said we’d be back the next week. Next time I’m going to check the prices, though – no more being distracted by flirting!

And, speaking of Frenchmen… A couple weeks ago a French guy invited me out with his friends, telling me to bring Olesya too because “nous sommes de méchants garçons – we are very naughty boys” and he didn’t want me to be all alone. The conversation ranged over many topics, including French stereotypes, American stereotypes, “prudish” Americans (I managed to convince them that not all Americans are uptight), Sarah Palin, history, philosophy, travel stories, and of course sex. We ended up going back to his house and staying there until 3 in the morning, because we were having so much fun. I was absolutely dead the next day, though, because 4 hours of rapid French conversation with older Frenchmen who are only too willing to take whatever you say the wrong way is exhausting. It was hilarious, though, and now he wants me to teach him English. So that’s fun.

And the best English mistake my students have made so far: Michèle is having her classes write surveys about things teenagers are interested in (music, fashion, movies, cell phones, etc), give the surveys to their class, and then analyze and present the results. So I’ve had to listen to dozens of presentations of survey results, some interesting and some not-so-interesting, and help her grade them (grading is hard. I appreciate my own teachers so much more now…). In the Seconde 10 class, which is one of her favorites, a student named Julien, who’s kind of the class clown, was giving a presentation about fashion. He said something like “Zees survey shows zat the testes of teenagers…” The first time he did it, I didn’t really notice, but then he went on to say a few more sentences involving the “testes” of 15-year-olds and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into hysterical laughter. I didn’t want to interrupt his presentation, though, so I didn’t say anything. By the end, I’d kind of forgotten, so we went on to the next presentation. However, the other students had obviously decided that since Julien’s pretty good at English, he knew the correct pronunciation, and at least two other students also said “testes”. By this point I wasn’t sure what to do, so I decided to ask Michèle after class. When I explained to her what “testes” meant, she was shocked – not a word she had learned in school, I guess. Anyway, the next time I saw the class she asked me to tell them. So I wrote “tastes” on the board and had them pronounce it, then wrote “testes = testicles” and explained that that’s how they’d said it in their presentations. Cue about 5 minutes of hysterical laughter from the whole class, including Michèle and me, and Julien blushing beet-red but still laughing as hard as everyone else. It was actually a really great way to break the ice between them and me a little bit, because we could all laugh together about something. And I bet none of them will ever mispronounce “tastes” again.

Finally, a story that sums up the biggest cultural difference between France and the US: My chorale sometimes has all-day rehearsals – the last one was from 10 to 5, and we must have spent at least 2 hours eating lunch, because this is France. Anyway, at rehearsal last Tuesday we were discussing the next all-day rehearsal, and someone suggested starting later, to which there was a general outcry of “But then we’ll only have an hour for lunch! That’s impossible!” Emilia and I just looked at each other, then burst out laughing. Oh, the French.

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