June 6, 2008

I'm Very Lucky

Some recent English teaching encounters:

When asked to think about her body and write a short paragraph about her thoughts, Isabelle wrote, "I'm very lucky about my body because he is composed of all the main members." I wasn't sure what to do with it.

When asked what he thought about traveling by train, Pierre-Emmanuel responded, "I think traveling by train is romantic. You can look out and see the paysage and you can meet lovely ladies."

When introducing herself at the beginning of a class, one of my students announced that she intended to be a 'public writer.' I was curious. What exactly is a public writer? She explained that this vocation originated in the middle ages in France when people could not write for themselves. Enter the public writer, who would correspond on legal matters, or write an account of a wedding or family history for other people. So, she intends to take this line of work up for modern French folks. A fascinating idea.

I had two veiled sisters in my class, evidently young Muslim women. There was another woman sitting across from them, facing them. She was 'French' - in the classic, original sense (as she would put it, I am sure). Each student introduced herself and good old Marie-France had her way with the veils.
'Where are you from?' she interrogated.
'France,' came calmly.
'Yes, but where are you from actually?' she repeated.
'Yes, but you are not originally from France...' insisting.
'Oh, well our parents are from Pakistan.'
'Ah, well then why do you not speak English better?' accusingly.
'Well, we have always lived in France. We always speak French.'
'Do your parents speak French?' she demanded.
'Of course. They live here also.'
'Huh,' haughtily.

There is so much underneath that conversation. Obviously. But when I have conversations about immigration in France with the 'French' (in the 'proper' sense of the term), the discussion is always framed in 'ours' and 'us' and 'them' and 'theirs.' 'When they come to our country, they must integrate into our ways and culture.' This is similar to many other places; similar statements can be heard in the US regarding immigration from the southern border, to be sure. However, the French have an interesting twist on this. If someone is 'French' - they are not an immigrant, nor have they been an immigrant ancestrally. This produces real feelings of ownership. I think most Americans (except maybe Native ones) think of themselves as immigrants on some level. Anyway, the two cultures are significantly influenced by this factor.

And as a random, delightful tid bit, the ultimate insult Xavier throws out there is calling someone a 'shampooingneuse pour les chiens': this is the one who washes the dog's hair before it is styled.

1 comment:

Maria Petrova said...

SO funny! (and so sad)

Alas I'd disagree that most Americans see themselves as immigrants... Yet as you say it's so key to an American identity. I've been in so many vehement immigration debates where people feel so entitled to "our country," forgetting that only their great-grandpa was as reckless and desperate (and desperado) as the Mexicans currently are.

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