October 2, 2014
I went to Boston last week for a particular reason: to take an exam. It was a French exam - the one for applying for French citizenship from here. Xavier and I have been amused by the differences in the citizenship process between the two countries. He pointed out that the French are mostly interested in assessing a candidate’s ability to assimilate in French culture and language. Americans are principally interested in a candidate’s moral standing – some assurance that she will be a good upright citizen.
Xavier basically studied a civics text primer: the branches of government, how many seats in the Senate, his NY representatives' names, some founding fathers trivia and had an oral interview covering these topics. He swore that he was not a terrorist, a communist or a mean person.
My test was different. I went to Boston because the test is proctored in the US at specific locations, on specific dates. I missed the most recent test date for NYC and it would be another 4 months before the test was offered in the city again. So, I ventured to Boston. Back Bay, which, incidentally, is truly charming and so beautiful. The townhouse and garden situation was inspiring for someone who also lives in a townhouse, but hasn't quite gone to town on the gardening front. The French Cultural Center is located in a big, formal townhouse on Marlborough Street.
The test was like the house - it was stuffy and rigid. The first portion was listening comprehension to what were, essentially, radio programs followed by questions to gauge comprehension. One program was about an 18th c. painting discovered in an old man's house and the provenance of the painting and the Louvre's restoration of it. The questions gauged whether or not you understood small and specific details in the various stories, not the broad strokes. That lasted 40 minutes.
Then came the truly fun part. The performance part. I was led down a small hallway to what must have been, at some point in the life of the house, a closet. At this point it was an examination room. There, on the other side of a table were two people. I sat down in my chair facing them and listened. The gentleman, with his froggy French eyes, explained that he would give me an advertisement for something. I would need to study the ad and then spend 10 minutes selling the product to them. Seemed like a memory/business or marketing school exercise as much as a language one, but of course I went with it.
The product - fittingly for the French - was a basket of organic fruits and vegetables, grown locally, delivered directly to your door, recipes included. I didn't memorize quite as closely as I should have, so I was left to invent all sorts of extra details about the service, spending time pointing out the effects of a large carbon footprint (I claimed the service was delivered by bike and then came up with some waste statistics that simply aren't factual, but bore the right message). I also suggested a few cooking ideas, and so on. In another similar exercise involving a clothing store ad, I spiced things up by claiming I was actually obese and that my husband was a very short man and we needed special tailoring and this service was always perfect for people like us. The French language part posed no real problem. Presumably that is the part in which they were interested. Perhaps, however, a good memory for advertisements is pivotal for good civil society in France.
Let's see if the examiners in Paris like my extrapolation. You see, there on the table in front of me was a recording device. The record of my tales will be sent to the official arbiters of this exam (in the version in my head, they are sitting stern-faced at the Préfecture de Police on Île de la Cité). I won't receive the results for at least 4 weeks.
Totally cracks me up.