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Thursday, January 6, 2011

English Faux Pas

Recently I had been told of a conversational group that had started up in my village, designed, someone said, to permit French-speaking people to learn English and English-speaking people to learn French. I was quite excited about it although my heavy work schedule meant I had to miss the first few meetings.

Today, despite a still rather onerous schedule, I was determined to attend the two-hour gathering. I spied one familiar face, Marie-Laure, a dynamic and delightful French woman who is a friend to the woman who sold me my house and had dropped by shortly after I arrived in Martizay last year to introduce herself. Her lack of English and my lack of French weren't enough to deter either of us. So I was pleased to see a friendly face.

I was disappointed, however, when I discovered that, instead of being a conversational exchange, this was simply a beginner's course in English for French speakers. Reluctant to be rude and just walk out, I elected to stay for today's session and try to do all the assigned exercises in French instead of English. Marie-Laure kept an eye on my work and corrected any mistakes while doing her own work at the same time.

A bit of a stickler for grammar, I was dismayed to see the first example the teacher, a volunteer British Martizay resident, put up on the board. She was illustrating how to make a negative statement out of an affirmative one. She wrote, "I am good," followed by "I am not good."

I bit my lip and wondered if I'd make it to the end of the two hours without tearing my hair out if this continued. I was half-expecting her to write "I could of" instead of "I could have," another glaring error that seems to be growing in popularity now, likely due to how few people bother to pick up a book these days and actually see the language.

I weathered the class with reasonably few winces (it was a friendly, fun group) and, when they announced that the volunteer teacher would be away for the next two weeks, I asked the program coordinator off to one side who would be teaching. Marie-Christine shook her head sorrowfully and whispered, "No one."

I knew I had a pretty demanding schedule but I couldn't help myself--this would be a great way to become a more familiar face to some of the villagers without being handicapped by my dearth of French. I asked if there was anything I could do. Marie-Christine's face brightened and next thing I knew I had agreed to return next week to teach the class.

Maybe if I do a good job, Marie-Christine will work with me to start a real conversational exchange group. My English may be above average but Lord knows my French sure ain't!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas Expectations

Ever since I left the USA in October of 2006, I left behind all the manic, stress-filled, end-of-year lavish decorating, gift-giving and meal-making holiday prep. I’d abandoned Martha Stewart for Debt-Free-Living. It was both energizing and stressful in its own right. I found myself still trying to buy for nephew and niece despite not having an income anymore--and no prospect of one, traveling abroad relying on my savings. This despite it costing me more than a hundred dollars just in postage for gifts equal to that, not to mention being vastly less than I could thoughtlessly spring for in previous years.  No matter how hard I wanted to shed the material aspect of my former life, it was hard to shed the expectation and tradition at times.

Christmas of 2009 was my first Christmas as a true resident of France, after spending 2006 escaping my first and arguably most nightmarish housesit on the Route du Paulmy in Ferrière-Larçon, leaving idyllic Vienna mid-December 2007 for my second nightmarish housesit in England before bailing for Ireland a mere two months later (but returning to my friend’s in Ferriere for the holiday), and then returning to the USA Nov-Dec 2008 before dashing back to Ferriere for a relaxed New Year’s. Funny but it’s only at this writing that I realize how I always managed to time my return to France to coincide with some part of each and every year-end holiday, an escape from onerous and unrealistic expectations, tensions and stress, short tempers and a feeling of ‘where has the real spirit of Christmas gone?’

This past Christmas, as the year before, was spent with a friend just kicking back, relaxing, no huge turkey dinner to spend days preparing for, and an informal promise to each other that if we chose to stay in our pajamas all day while we grazed on a pre-made buffet of foie gras terrine and other cold homemade finger foods, that would be quite within our rights.

In fact, the only gift-giving was to be to our sibling dogs, and I’d brought the doggie stockings to stuff. Tilly for some inconceivable reason, glommed on to her stocking at first sight days before, despite the fact that I hadn’t stowed anything inside of it beyond a tennis ball and another toy, quite out of sight. Treats and additional toys from my friend had yet to be secreted inside. When I stowed them out of Tilly's reach, she whined and cried, staring incessantly at the embroidered terrier dogs before, exasperated, I gave up and stuffed them inside the wardrobe until it was time to bring them to my friend's home on Christmas Day.

Well, Christmas has come and gone and the stockings emptied. Once I’d returned home on the 29th, the empty stockings resumed their places, hanging from the mantel, a charming accoutrement to the other holiday decorations that grace the fireplace when the evening fire is lit, including fat bunches of mistletoe, which grows rampant on the trees here. But expectations have not been laid to rest no matter how many new toys litter the floor. Each night has been laced with bouts of piteous cries as Tilly suddenly spies her stocking and stands on the fireplace foot, staring covetously first at one and then the other, convinced that more treasures must lie within. Ah, those great expectations!