When I was in grade nine or ten, my French teacher asked me to stay after class. This didn’t really strike me as overly strange. I was a sarcastic bastard, so I was assuming that he wanted to tell me to, you know, stop being a sarcastic bastard.
Dude was one of my favourite teachers. A couple of years later, he’d lovingly refer to my buddies and I as “little fuckers” when we tried to convince him that the rules for the other students in the class shouldn’t really apply to us. Yes, even back then…
So, I sat down on top of a desk across from his and said, “What’s up?”
As I waited for the “stop being a little prick” talk, his expression turned serious. He looked like he was trying to pick the right words.
This seemed odd, but I had biology class next and I was in no rush to get there.
He started with, “You could be fluently French if you wanted…”
This was not what I was expecting.
I was in what was called “French for English.” That meant that I wasn’t French, couldn’t speak French, and my parents most likely weren’t French.”
My reply was as carefully considered as his opening statement, “Wha?”
He went on to explain that I showed a certain aptitude and blah blah blah. He said he’d move me into “French for French” if I wanted.
I was pretty shocked by the entire thing.
Being me, I turned it down. The reason I gave was something along the lines of, “So, I am making As with no effort, and you want me to switch into something where I’ll make much lower grades and have to work much, much harder? Pass.”
In reality, it was because I hated speaking French. I understood it pretty well. Better than I let on, really. I kept that nugget of information close to the vest, in case anyone tried to talk smack about me en francais. But, I hated the way that I sounded when I spoke French. And since I didn’t like doing anything that I wasn’t good at…
After I turned it down, my French teacher said, “At some point in the future, you’ll wish that you could speak French.”
I laughed, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Little fella, as long as I can order food and hit on women in French, I’m golden.” (I sometimes wonder why people didn’t punch me in the face on a fairly regular basis.)
This moment in time flashes back on me occasionally. Not when an interesting job opening requires French. Or when I have to try to translate something. It is usually when an attractive woman mentions that she loves listening to a man speak French.
I somehow suspect that “You wanna sit there and listen to me understand French?” won’t have the same impact.
Though I’ve never tried it.
My sister, on the other hand, was much more proactive when it came to picking up French.
Many years ago, my cousins’ two French boyfriends (two sisters, two boyfriends) were working on a car in my uncle’s garage next door. My sister, who was seven at the time, spent an entire day there with them. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot to do in a small town.
When she came home for supper that night, she sat down and announced proudly, through missing teeth, that she had learned some French that day.
My father was intrigued, “Oh yeah, what did you learn?”
Still smiling big, she said, “I learned ‘Coooooock suckerrrrrrr’ and “Mudder fuckerrrrrrrr.”
My father is still laughing about that.