Monday, October 26, 2015

Billy Madison Redux

It was the Grateful Dead who sang:

"Well, the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry any more."

Eh bien, les premiers jours sont jours les plus durs,
ne vous inquiétez pas plus.

It sounds so poetic in French.

Perhaps my Billy Madison entry the day prior was indeed apt.

My day was a bout of confusion lost in a French Twilight Zone episode.  Où est Monseigneur Rod Serling?

I know enough French to ask that much.

I woke up early enough.  Merci to the daylight savings change that happens a week earlier in France than the U.S. so I woke up to light rather than darkness at 7:30am.

I had some pain, beurre et confiture de cerise for breakfast and made my way over to school.

I was a bit lost trying to figure out where to go but eventually I found my way into the office to get my schedule.  I didn't understand enough French to realize that there was an orientation at 9am prior to my exam.

Granted, the program was printed in only French.  I was sitting outside the exam room, when I finally realized there was another entrance, and the orientation was inside.  Apparently,  I didn't miss much because it was just a rehash of the orientation booklet.  I circled things in my Orientation book I wanted to do, like a wine and cheese tasting and French Cinema night.

I waited to take my exam, staring out the window at the weathered Tower of Charlemagne and beautiful marble, domed Saint Martin Basilica.  The leaves below in the courtyard were a burnt yellow.  The cloudy mist in the sky was burning away into blue haze.

I took my French test, and thought I spoke pretty well.  As well as I can in French.  But I definitely chatted a bit.

After the exam, all the students wandered out to the tour area for the Tours tour.  With no one out, the students congregated and chatted.  I met a German girl named Judith, two Omani doctors named Ahmed and Walid and a Taiwanese girl named Tang.  I alternated from Arabic to Mandarin for a tad for fun.

Our tour guide was not be found, but another nice teacher gave us a tour around the city.  I chatted with the various students from various places.  A few Libyans, a couple Saudis, an English lass and a few Italianas.  The city was beautiful in Autumn splendor.  We crossed through old medieval squares, amid houses made of weathered wood and limestone.  We crossed trams and tracks, and the tree-lined boulevard.

After lunch, I returned to start class.  I was put in the beginner class.  That was fine, I had mentioned I wanted to get a solid basis for my French skills.

Alas, that wasn't quite what fit.

The rest of the class was very basic.  Very basic.  As in, the rest of the group was coming from the Middle East, and the teacher was teaching the very start of French.  As in "Je m'appelle Paul."

At first, I laughed.  And made it through the first break, scratching my head.  While I wanted a basic start, this was perhaps not it.

As in the alphabet.  And how to write the alphabet.

And how to pick out different letters, and write them in cursive.

As in I really was in a French Billy Madison.

I began to get a little despondent.  I may not be Honoré de Balzac, but I am not a French kindergartner.  And I had not just spent a lot of centimes to learn the French alphabet.

The teacher saw my pain.  We chatted about how much French I spoke.  I checked the book, and felt pretty comfortable with most of the material in the first few chapters.  Not perfect but I would rather a challenge than this.

We took a break, as the class copied down A through Zed and I stood outside on the window sill, staring at the changing yellow leaves, wondering if the French phrase was le suicide.  And I chatted with Khaled, a doctor from Saudi Arabia.

The teacher returned, and sent me downstairs to chat with his boss to get me into a different class.  I descended down the stairs, and battled further confusion.  An exasperated French bureaucrat didn't quite understand what I wanted.

-If you are in that class, go back to that class

  -I was told to switch classes, I am not going back to that class.

A woman even looked at my schedule, and took me to an empty lab as I tried to explain that I was trying to switch classes.

They tried to send me back to the original class, and I tried to explain that I had no business in that class--I don't need to learn the French alphabet.

Finally, I spoke to the boss, and she told me to come back in the morning for a new schedule.  I asked in French what time I should arrive.

I left and went for a run.

Down to the Loire River, amid the white bark trees with yellow-green leaves.  I did three Sinnermans, my usual runner's companion.

Tomorrow is a new day, but today really was day one of jardin d'enfants.  I will work it out, or my name is not Jean-Paul Rocheheurre.   I didn't cough up a slew of francs to get an immersion class that does not reach my lil piggy toe.

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