March 10, 2009


There have been a few instances of something lately. Me acting French. Or, at least, that is Xavier's version of things (and he is an authority on the matter).

A few weeks ago we were in an English bookshop in Paris, The Village Voice. It is a great place with lots of books in English, good readings and the New Yorker in print. I like that. We walked up to pay for the pile of things I had gathered and I glanced down on the counter and there was Caroline Kennedy, with a tear rolling down her cheek on the cover of New York Magazine. I made some offhand comment like, "She should cry - out of embarrassment. What a joke." And then up she rose, an American Caroline Kennedy fan, in her defense. She was sitting reading something, and then suddenly she was right next to me, her face close to mine.

"Caroline Kennedy is an amazing women - she deserved to run for Senate. Simply because her achievements weren't on a payroll, people think they don't count," she proclaimed.

I wasn't having it. "Caroline Kennedy's accomplishments have been totally dependent on her birth. It is a case of anti-meritocracy in a year where we should scorn any trace of that. It was an embarrassment that she ran at all and that she was seriously considered."

It went on like that for a little while with me being uncharacteristically inelastic. In the end, it was Xavier who was making awkward gestures - little hand signals, his body swaying awkwardly from side to side - for me to cease. We walked out of the bookshop and he said, "I was embarrassed for you." (Let's just say, usually, it is the other way around). "I think you have ingested some Frenchness."

I was pleased to hear it.

I've started to have these really delightful interactions with Frenchies all over the place. If you asked me a year ago to name some examples of delightful interactions, I would have frowned and knitted my brow. But today, there are plenty. Why? Language. Certainly a big part of it. Doesn't feel hazy anymore. I express my ideas and fully understand other people's. I laugh with people. Even make them laugh. Mostly, I realized that my big smile is as effective on the French as it is on Americans if I persevere. They might even like it more with some pressing.

I appreciate French directness. There is no sugar-coating. My American students often want whatever is said to be said in a soft way. Their French professors where I teach give them very direct feedback and their eyes widen with disbelief. I like it. The French use their language precisely. I love Americans, but I can't say we often do the same.


Anonymous said...

At last, you are giving it back to my people ;-)

(I genuinely felt ashamed though)

Jill said...

I like to think that I appreciate directness, but I'm not sure I would if people were always totally direct with me. I can see how that directness can be refreshing at times though. Loved this post! Especially the fact that your are communicating well enough for the frenchies to see the true Emilie. They have been missing out until now!

D1Warbler said...

See, I told you you were a "throwback" to your French Grandfather. I'll bet he was proud of your "espirit" today!

Love, Chrys

pilar chapin said...

oh is happening. you are channnggiinng. hee hee. it's great!

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