I returned from break to find Dmitry, a large Russian man bearing a strong resemblance to Shrek, sitting in my seat. Apparently it was his seat and he decided to repossess it while I was getting the coffee that I desperately needed to tame a terrible case of jet lag. Today was my first day of government-sponsored French classes. Actually my first day was last Monday, but I didn’t return from my trip back to the U.S. until yesterday.
It seems that there is assigned seating in my class of twelve, or at least Dimitry believes there to be. He arrived late today. Very late. He burst through the door just minutes before our 30-minute break and looked my way before plopping himself down in a chair near the door. Our teacher called recess moments later. When I returned to the room I found Dimitry in the seat previously occupied by me. (He spent so little time in the classroom today that I can only imagine he came to visit the chair that he obviously loves dearly.)
I don’t speak ogre or Russian and I got the sense that neither of us spoke enough français to have a conversation regarding French property rights, thus I shuffled myself and things to a chair that I knew had been empty the first half of class. A moment later, a different student kindly suggested that I move again because I had unwittingly chosen a seat that belonged to a student who was absent today. I was playing musical chairs by myself - with no music and no prizes. Further, every time I moved the class watched me. For no particular reason other than the social norms in their countries of origin evidently encourage uninhibited gawking at strangers in awkward situations.
Just as I was getting settled in my third chair, Dmitry realized that he may have made a mistake by ousting me. “Are you the professor?” he asked. (He’d been there long enough to stake claim to a chair, but couldn’t recognize our French teacher from before the break).
I said “no” too quickly. Had I thought about it for one moment I would have told him: “Yes, I am the professor. And in France, it’s customary to mark your territory with a ring of urine to ensure that self-centered Americans don’t waltz into class and assume that they can sit in any old empty chair. I know. Americans are stupid. They’ll assume anything, including that a room with chairs scattered about it like an AA meeting in a church basement would not have an assigned-seating chart. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you with the 'AA' reference. You can take your vodka back out. So anyway, go ahead and pee on your chair. Don’t mind us. Your classmates love to people-watch.”
[I began to think that there really was a seating chart until my French teacher teased Dmitry in the midst of her lesson when she realized that he had confiscated what he perceived to be his chair. After class she apologized to me and said that he is nice, but he seems to be a creature of habit. I told her it was no big deal. And I really meant it, until I got home and decided to write this entry instead of doing my homework.]