Thursday, May 20, 2010


Today I met with the regional big fromage and guardian of the French language in public schools. He is alerted when any non-French speaker registers for school and then evaluates what each child needs in order to successfully learn French and therefore learn everything else one needs to know from school. If you don't speak French you cannot read Harry Potter en francais no matter how good you are at reading it in English. If you don't speak French you cannot solve word problems or follow instructions for measuring and calculating. If you don't speak French you cannot read the history of the kings, the explanation of condensation and evaporation, the life cycle of the frog or how snails really are delicious and so are mushrooms too.

At first I thought he didn't like me. Or that he was establishing his authority through the withholding of courtesy. He asked me if I spoke French. 'Oui, je parle francais un petit peu.' I told him I understood more than I could speak so he could go ahead. 'C'est normal.', said he.

The remainder of the interview (which is exactly what it felt like) was conducted in French. He explained that he'd met Ma Fille and had tested her. That she was clever but very shy and shyness would not be good for her in this situation. He asked if we were going to be here for a few months and then move away. He asked why I had not put them in school sooner. He asked, and asked, and asked. All in French, all very serious, no hint of a smile or softening gesture.

When he'd worn me down sufficiently, he decided to build me back up. And to start speaking extremely passable English.
In English he told me that both kids should learn very quickly especially if I were to 'welcome France into my home'. He said that he wasn't worried about my kids and that I shouldn't either. Now he tells me.

But then, he told me that I should not speak French to them at home. I should not speak French to them because……my accent is horrible! He said, and I agree, that they should have a strong base in one language before learning another one. He said that one should know a language well enough to allow beauty into it. He said that the new language should be properly taught. Wait. Am I offended? Am I relieved?

I chose relieved. "And with the Baby?", I asked. "Should I continue to say small things like, 'vien avec moi and tu vieux un banane?'" The immediate response, "No, no. Don't do that." Well. He said that Ma Fille is doing well because when she says French words she has a French accent and when she speaks English she doesn't have an accent at all."Unlike yours. Yours is very Texan." Really?

I left feeling confused. And exhausted from concentrating since it was about my kids and their education and so very important. And from trying to say things, to ask questions, to defend my decisions in a language that I don't know well enough to make a clever turn of phrase or inject a flourish or subtle touch of beauty.

But, if my kids can do that in two languages I will be thrilled. Let me be the one to ask the woman at the Hyper-U if she has a 'chapeau de nager' when I should have said, 'bonnet de bain'. I don't mind laughing. As a matter of fact, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 'Hat for swimming' has a nice ring to it. Much more of a flourish than 'bath bonnet'.


  1. Bienvenue to the mind-boggling world of French education. Your kids will do fine, but you might end up needing therapy in the end... ;)

    La Mom
    An American Mom in Paris

  2. What would M. Le Fromage think of Mah aksent?

  3. Oh man Aidan. I can't even imagine having to deal with all that! My chapeau off to you!


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