Today a friend of mine lamented that courtesy callers were becoming such an aggravation that she was starting to pick up and pretend she didn’t understand English. The poor SOB on the other end this time around chose French. I immediately knew how to say “I don’t speak English” in French. “Je ne parle pas Anglais.” This isn’t because I know a lot of French, in fact this is just about the only thing I remember from taking four years of classes. So why do I remember this one ironic line? Because it was the first thing my French teacher taught us.
She was actually French, and not French Canadian either, legitimately from France. She was tall, slim, and always dressed in black, the absolute stereotype of what Americans think French women are and although she never knew it I adored her attitude. An attitude that started with teaching us the one sentence she hoped we’d retain, “I don’t speak French.” I always had a hard time knowing if she had a sly sense of humor or if she really did just see us as a classroom full of muppets. I think it was a great deal of both and for reason. That’s why I instantly liked her. She was the only other person in the school who had as low an opinion of my classmates as I did. The sad thing is I don’t think anyone else picked up on this… but I sure did!
At one point she showed us a French movie. I don’t remember what it was but there was a scene in it with an actual glass house, sort of. I always heard the phrase, “Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house” but this was instantly changed in my mind to, “Don’t take a shower if you live in a glass house with no curtains.” That’s what the scene was — a teenage girl showering in what looked like a completely glass bathroom, no curtains, a bunch of other kids gathering underneath giggling and pointing. I have no idea what the cinematic reason for this was but my French teacher’s response to it was to hold up a manila folder over the screen while muttering something under her breath about our parents. After this little mishap we were relegated to watching The Little Mermaid. Apparently actual French movies were just a little too risqué but in all fairness watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid dubbed over in French was oddly hilarious. Since then I have grown up and adore French movies, though I do admit they’re often very “rapey.”
One day our French teacher told us how horrified she was to learn what a doughnut was. She said all her friends here were telling her how great they were but she was French, a country known for pastries and fine desserts. Imagine being served an enormous blob of brightly colored lard, as a doughnut can only be seen in such a context. She claimed it was huge and tasted so bad she struggled not to puke, just barely able to swallow one bite. This only endeared me to her more – as that was also my opinion of doughnuts.
She always liked me – I always thought it was because I was quiet, but one day she confessed it was probably because I had a hunched back and hunchbacks in France were thought to be smart. To this day this is the damn weirdest stereotype I have ever had assumed about me but hey! Could have been worse! I’ll take smart over mentally challenged any day!
My final memory of her was when she was at the end of her stay at the school. She had met an American man and they were moving back to France to get married. It was the end of the school year so it was time for report cards to be sent out. This is how you know a teacher no longer gives a shit – she gave us our own report cards blank and had us fill them in as she did a public roll call of our grades. We were all so stunned I think everyone filled them in correctly but she didn’t get away with this because on the line left for the teacher’s name we all left it blank. Why? Because none of us knew her name. She had never told us, she had never written it on the blackboard. We only called her “mademoiselle” which is the same as calling someone “miss.” Miss what? Once again she was disappointed by her idiot American students who accidentally ratted her out in doing this because the other teachers did notice the blank field pretty damn quick. Bless.
I don’t know where she is today. I still don’t know her name. Even so I hope she is well and found happiness. She deserves it after two years at that school. cough cough. She always told us if we visit France go somewhere besides Paris. Someday I hope to honor her request… They say there’s a peasant eating beast in Gevaudan…