Category Archives: Miscellaneous

And you thought French class was hard!

Ode to the English Plural

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

–Anonymous

(With special thanks to Sandy Smiley for sending this my way.)

Photo Credits: Weheartit.com, Robert Doisneau via Weheartit.com

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Filed under Just for laughs, Miscellaneous, Unconventional Wisdom

Today is a gift


Will you remember, my friend,
That today when we ran in the
Rain-freshened park
We laughed because it didn’t
Smell fresh?
Something in that park smelled darn ripe
Permeating our trail through the woods
as if maybe I had stepped in…
and its odor had followed us along on the bottom of my shoe.
Nature’s sick joke after so many days without rain.

Will you remember, mon amour,
That the tears in my eyes
As I said goodbye today
Were not for the week that lies ahead –
You’ll be here and I there – but for
The weeks that lie behind?
Weeks of peanut butter and Nutella,
Florence Foresti and Ben Stiller,
B.O.B. Magic and Stromae:
We embody franglais, quoi.

Will you remember, Mom,
That today I sang the birthday song
by Skype
As you drove to the airport,
Prepared to board a plane that
Would bring you to me?
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said
For the first time in months.

Will you remember, you,
The little nothings that made this –
A perfectly ordinary day by anyone’s standards –
One of
The
Best
Days
Of
Your
Life?

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Ce jour est un don
Te souviendras-tu mon amie
Quand aujourd’hui nous courions
Dans le parc rafraichi par l’averse
Nous avons ri
Parce que cela ne sentait pas le frais ?
Quelque chose dans ce parc sentait sacrément fort
S’immisçant dans notre sillage à travers bois
Comme si j’avais mis le pied dedans
Et son odeur nous a suivies sous ma chaussure
Une mauvaise blague de la nature après tant de jours sans pluie.

Te souviendras-tu mon amour,
Que les larmes dans mes yeux
Quand je t’ai dit au revoir aujourd’hui
N’étaient pas pour la semaine à venir
Tu seras ici et moi là-bas
Mais pour les semaines passées ?
Des semaines de beurre de cacahuète et de Nutella
De Florence Foresti et Ben Stiller
De B.O.B. Magic et Stromae
Nous incarnons le franglais, quoi.

Te souviendras-tu Maman,
Qu’aujourd’hui je t’ai chanté Joyeux Anniversaire
Par Skype
Alors que tu roulais vers l’aéroport
Prête à embarquer dans un avion
Qui t’amènerait jusqu’à moi ?
« Je te vois demain » t’ai-je dit
Pour la première fois depuis des mois.

Te souviendras-tu, toi
De ces petits riens qui font –
De ce jour parfaitement ordinaire aux yeux de chacun –
L’un
Des
Plus
Beaux
Jours
De
Ta vie ?

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Inadequate words for an extraordinary school year

Maybe I just need some time to sort through the emotions, I told myself as justification for the complete lack of closing reflection on my teaching experience. In the days that have followed my last day at school I have thought a lot about my students, about teaching, about goodbyes.  But I have not written a single word.  As if my thoughts on the matter have been in the same limbo with my application for a renewal of contract.  I don’t know what to think because I don’t know if I will ever see “my” students again, at least not as their teacher.  I don’t know whether the “see you soon’s” I repeated last week were promises I can keep or merely euphemistic avoidance of the implications of “goodbye.”

I don’t know how my initial “rookie’s impatience” gave way to a genuine love for the job, and the desire to continue teaching English, when at first the prospect of the assistantship meant little more to me than a 7-month ticket to France.

But it did.  And I couldn’t help thinking about this “gray” post as I remembered the arms of the same little Laurine wound tightly around my waist when I left school last Thursday.

“Don’t go! Don’t abandon us!” she said dramatically, shaking her olive head and squeezing me even tighter.  “Oh, please staaaay,” she sang.  She batted her eyelashes as if fighting back tears — comic relief.

I was a little embarrassed as I grabbed  her arms and looked helplessly at the growing group of students that had formed around me.  “We will see you again, next year?” one of them asked, seeking confirmation.

“Yes, when will you come back?” another added.

I reminded them that I wouldn’t know until summertime, but that I was doing my best to come back for another year.

“See you soon,” I repeated, in English, especially in response to several rather pitiful goodbyes.

Finally I tore myself away, saying I would miss my train if I didn’t get going — which was true: I had already missed one.

With a smile I took a mental picture of what will probably remain the most vivid scene in my memory of that day: hands waving in unison under a pink cherry tree.

You see why it has been hard to find the words to write.  Even this little description seems so inadequate to me. Furthermore, it sounds proud to say I had a sending-off party; am I tooting my own horn?

Perhaps with children relationships are easier, simpler.  Love flows more freely, attachment comes more swiftly.  I know that it’s not necessarily a reflection of my teaching skills to say that I was well-liked.  On the contrary, perhaps it was my lack of skill, my overt amateur status that won them over.  I was “trying to speak French like they were trying to speak English,” remember.  In my classroom the kids were always allowed to correct my faults, exasperating as they might be at times.  And we laughed together as we learned together.

It was magical.  I hope I can do it again.

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Des mots insuffisants pour une année extraordinaire.

J’ai peut-être seulement besoin de faire le tri dans mes émotions me suis-je dit pour justifier l’absence de conclusion à mon expérience pédagogique. Dans les jours qui ont suivi mon dernier jour d’école, j’ai beaucoup pensé à mes élèves, à l’enseignement, aux au-revoir. Mais je n’ai pas écrit un seul mot. Comme si mes pensées sur la question planaient dans les mêmes limbes que ma demande de renouvellement de contrat. Je ne sais pas quoi penser parce que je ne sais pas si je reverrai « mes » élèves, même sans être leur enseignante. Je ne sais pas si le « à bientôt » que j’ai répété la semaine dernière est une promesse que je pourrai tenir ou simplement un euphémisme pour éviter l’implication d’un « au-revoir ».

Je ne sais pas comment mon « impatience du débutant » des premiers jours a laissé la place à un réel amour de mon travail, et au désir de continuer à enseigner l’anglais, alors qu’au début la perspective d’être assistante signifiait pour moi à peine plus qu’un simple visa de sept mois pour la France.

Mais c’est arrivé. Et je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser à ce post « gris » en me rappelant les bras de cette même petite Laurine me serrant fort quand j’ai quitté l’école jeudi dernier.

« Ne pars pas ! ne nous abandonne pas ! » disait-elle théâtralement, secouant sa tête ronde et me serrant encore plus fort. « S’il te plait reeesste » chantait-elle. Elle battait des paupières comme si elle retenait ses larmes – comique.

J’étais un peu embarrassée en détachant ses bras et en jetant un regard impuissant au groupe de plus en plus important d’élèves  se formant autour de moi. « Nous te reverrons l’année prochaine ? » m’a demandé l’un d’entre eux, attendant une confirmation.

« Oui, tu reviens quand ? » a ajouté un autre.

Je leur ai rappelé que je ne le saurai pas avant cet été, mais que je faisais tout mon possible pour revenir une année de plus.

« A bientôt » leur ai-je répété en anglais, en réponse particulière à plusieurs « goodbyes » plutôt pitoyables.

Finalement je me suis décidée à partir, déclarant que je risquais de manquer mon train si je n’y allais pas – ce qui était vrai, j’en avais déjà loupé un.

En souriant, j’ai pris une photo dans ma tête de ce qui restera certainement le souvenir le plus marquant de cette journée : des mains s’agitant à l’unisson sous un cerisier rose.

Vous voyez pourquoi cela a été difficile de trouver des mots à écrire. Même cette petite description me semble inappropriée. Et même plus, cela parait prétentieux de dire que j’ai eu une fête d’adieu, est-ce que je chante mes propres louanges ?

Les relations avec les enfants sont peut-être plus faciles, plus simples. L’amour s’écoule plus librement, l’attachement se fait plus rapidement. Je sais que ce n’est pas forcément grâce à mes compétences pédagogiques que j’ai été appréciée. Au contraire, c’est peut être mon manque de compétence, mon statut d’amateur non dissimulé qui les a conquis. « J’essaie de parler Français comme ils essaient de parler Anglais », souvenez-vous. Dans ma classe, les enfants avaient toujours le droit de corriger mes fautes, même si cela pouvait parfois être exaspérant. Et nous riions ensemble en apprenant ensemble.

C’était magique. J’espère pouvoir recommencer.

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Filed under Gratitude, Miscellaneous, Teaching

晴天の霹靂 : Thunderclap from a clear sky

“Going out to get some fresh air?” A squat elderly woman was locking the door of my neighbor’s apartment as I descended the stairs yesterday afternoon.  In the dark of the corridor I squinted, but even then I didn’t recognize her face.

“Yes, what a beautiful day,” I replied after a second’s pause.  It’s true.  Yesterday should have been the first day of spring.  All of a sudden the air really was warm and the grass really was green and people were skipping around with the initial stages of this year’s first spring fever blitz.

“Didn’t you hear that the air isn’t fresh anymore, as of today?”  She smelled of mothballs, I think, and she said “fresh” in exactly the same way she had said it before, laboring over the “f” and the “r.”  I had never met this woman in my life but the thought crossed my mind that in her old age she was convinced she knew me.  As we exited the building the brightness of the day kept me at first from making out the wrinkled brow of the antagonist to my cheery mood.  Seeing my quizzical look, she continued.  “La radiation est arrivee du Japon.” She made a motion with a gloved hand as if she were encompassing all the land in one fell swoop. “L’air n’est plus frais.”

“Dommage,” I said, hopping down the opposite side of the horseshoe staircase.  “Bonne apres-midi, en tout cas!” No bad news was going to spoil this day.

***

It has taken a full 24 hours for the gravity of my nonchalance to dawn upon me.  Sure, that woman I’d never met left me with a bad first impression.  Ordinarily it’s not the thing to do to warn people about possible radioactive threats on the first beautiful day of the year.

But isn’t it a little bit shameful that in tossing my worries to the wind I didn’t even pause to consider the fears of the Japanese? I wonder what the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami were feeling at the moment I shrugged off what I perceived as pessimism? While it is unhealthy to dwell upon disaster, it would be inhuman not to feel compassion for their pain.

I wish I had chosen my words more wisely. I wish I had answered the woman I met in the staircase with more than just a flippant, devil-may-care response. I wish I had said, “our air is fresher than Japan’s, and the ground we walk on more stable.  If radiation has made its way to France, it means we’re all in this together.  Let us think of Japan.”

The earthquake shook Japan like a thunderclap from a clear sky. It might have been the first beautiful day of the year.

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

晴天の霹靂 : Coup de tonnerre dans le ciel clair

“Vous sortez respirer l’air frais ?” Une petite vieille dame fermait la porte de l’appartement de ma voisine tandis que je descendais l’escalier hier après midi. J’ai plissé les yeux dans la pénombre du couloir, mais je ne l’ai pas reconnue.

« Oui, c’est une journée magnifique » ai-je répliqué après un instant. C’est vrai. Ce devait être hier le premier jour du printemps. D’un seul coup, l’air était vraiment chaud, l’herbe vraiment verte et les gens bourdonnaient en sentant les prémices de la fièvre du printemps de l’année.

« Vous n’avez pas entendu que l’air n’est plus frais à ce jour ? » Elle sentait la naphtaline, ai-je pensé, et elle a prononcé « frais » comme elle l’aurait dit avant en insistant sur le « f » et le « r ». Je n’avais jamais vu cette dame de ma vie, mais l’idée m’a traversé l’esprit que dans son grand âge elle était convaincue qu’elle me connaissait. Tandis que nous sortions de l’immeuble, la luminosité ambiante m’a tout d’abord empêché de froncer les sourcils alors que j’étais de si bonne humeur. En voyant mon regard interrogateur, elle a continué « La radiation est arrivée du Japon » Elle a fait un geste de sa main gantée englobant tous les alentours. « L’air n’est plus frais ».

« Dommage, » ai-je déclaré, en dévalant l’autre côté de l’escalier en fer à cheval. « Bonne après midi en tout cas ! ». Aucune mauvaise nouvelle n’allait me gâcher cette journée.

Il m’a fallu 24 heures pour que je commence à prendre conscience de la gravité de ma nonchalance. Bien sûr, cette femme que je n’avais jamais rencontrée m’a fait une première impression assez mauvaise. Habituellement on n’alarme pas les gens sur une éventuelle menace nucléaire le premier beau jour de l’année.

Mais n’est ce pas un peu honteux qu’en jetant mes inquiétudes aux orties, je ne me sois même pas arrêtée sur les peurs des Japonais ? Je me demande ce que les survivants du tremblement de terre et du tsunami peuvent ressentir pendant que je hausse les épaules face à ce que je considère comme du pessimisme. Alors qu’il est malsain d’insister sur le désastre, il serait inhumain de ne pas ressentir de la compassion pour leur douleur.

J’aurai aimé avoir choisi mes mots plus sagement. J’aurai aimé avoir répondu à cette femme que j’ai rencontrée dans l’escalier de façon moins insouciante, moins désinvolte. J’aurai aimé avoir dit « notre air est plus frais qu’au Japon, et le sol où nous marchons plus stable. Si la radiation a fait le chemin jusqu’en France, cela signifie que nous sommes tous dans le même bateau. Pensons au Japon. »

Le séisme a secoué le Japon comme un coup de tonnerre dans un ciel clair. Cela aurait pu être le premier beau jour de l’année.

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Thirty-second Friday

"Drive very slowly" -- Chez Geoffroy

I have to catch a train for Strasbourg in one hour and my hair is still wet and my bag is still open, but I’ve given myself thirty seconds to type as much as I can.

Thanksgiving came and went.  More on that later.  Snow came and stayed.  Ditto the last sentence.

It’s so very Christmas-y here; everything is going well.  Thirty seconds just turned into two minutes, so au revoir for now!

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Papa maman bébé: why does children’s literature in this country have to be so undeniably French?

Do you know the feeling of surprise that dissolves into interest and eventually into paralysis of the will to turn the page when you stumble upon a particularly striking image in a magazine?  Maybe it’s a dirty image, but not necessarily.  Maybe it’s just a suggestive one.  One with a smidgen of the stuff that Marilyn Monroe exuded.  At any rate, you are captivated for a moment, or a few moments.  You don’t hear whoever might have been talking to you before.  You don’t notice that your bus has pulled up and that people are pushing by you to get on it.  Until the moment passes, you are helpless in a way. Absorbed.

This has never happened to me when I was looking at a children’s book.  Until last Wednesday, that is, when I was drawn to the children’s section of Dijon’s Librarie Privat — probably because I am surrounded by 223 French kids three days a week these days.

I had no particular intent, since the only children’s books I read in my classes are books in English — The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Brown Bear Brown Bear, for example. Maybe I was just a little curious to compare.  And boy did I get more than I bargained for.  After perusing a few names I can’t remember, I picked up a name I’ll never forget: Papa maman bébé by Anaïs Vaugelade.  The concept was simple, for kids just learning to read.  Each two-page spread was like the cover: three images, one designated to represent Papa, one for Maman, and a little one for Bébé.  Papa Melon, Maman Orange, Bébé Citron. Papa Chaussure (a decorated leather city shoe), Maman Botte (a chic leather tall boot) Bébé Pantoufle (a soft little slipper).

Charmingly uncomplicated images outlined in black kept me turning the pages, along with the obvious French culture symbols — like those ubiquitous tall boots I mentioned.  Even the children’s books are so French, I thought…right before I turned the page and my thought process took a temporary hit.

There before me — how I wish I could find a picture of the page online! — was Papa Caca, Maman Pipi, and Bébé Prout.

For all those who need a little help with the translation, that’s Papa Caca, Maman Peepee, and Baby Fart.

There I was, staring at a charmingly uncomplicated turd, a charmingly uncomplicated pool of urine, and a charmingly uncomplicated little baby cloud of gas.

Surprise: Did this author really draw and color excrement? Did she really put her drawings in a children’s book and label them Dad, Mom, Baby?

Interest: Yes she did.  And oh, my, gosh…that is so French.

Paralysis: I cannot turn the page.

When I finally pried myself away — after checking all the other pages for similar scandals — I walked out of the bookstore feeling less offended than I probably looked.  If there is one thing I can say about the French (okay, everyone knows I have a lot to say…) it is that they are very frank — with their coworkers, with their friends, with their family, and (especially) with their kids.  It’s something I appreciate about them because it’s not always a given in the United States.  The French always “tell it like it is” and aren’t as bothered by political correctness or hypersensitivity.  In the states we call people who eat too much “MacDo” overweight. Here, they’re straight up gros. I saw a sign in my school today identifying children with autism as “handicapés. No sugar-coating necessary: the French aren’t offended by the word “handicap” — among others.  And, they don’t have a problem with poop and pee in kids’ books.

An American-style hug in France

But that’s only one side of the coin.  The best part about their straightforward, no nonsense approach? When you receive a compliment — which happens rarely, by American standards — or gushing support (maybe in the form of an American-style hug instead of les bises on the cheeks?) you know it’s real. You know you’ve earned it.  You’re accepted into the club.

Sort of.  There are conditions.

One of those being that you won’t be shocked by what might be found in the pages of children’s literature, for example.

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Filed under Dijon, Laugh it off, Miscellaneous, Teaching

My life in images: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

On the road from Beaune, direction Dijon.

Every season hath its pleasures;
Spring may boast her flowery prime,
Yet the vineyard’s ruby treasures
Brighten Autumn’s sob’rer time.
— Thomas Moore

Salon du pains, vins, fromages. Beaune, 17 October 2010

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”  –George Eliot

Clos du Vougeot

 

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”  –Stanley Horowitz

The connoisseur

 

Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.  –Edwin Way Teale

Beaune

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” –Albert Camus

Language Assistants outside Notre Dame (Beaune)

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