Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Rain in Spain . . .

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While chatting with my fellow immigrant classmates the young Cambodian woman next to me seized the opportunity to tell me that I was pronouncing the word “pas” incorrectly. I was forced to repeat “Je ne sais pas” (I don't know) over and over again while a Peruvian and a Macedonian student joined in to help critique my performance. I know enough to know that the “s” in “pas” is silent, thus I couldn't have been that far off. Plus, I use this phrase daily, along with “Je ne comprends pas” (I don't understand), on the streets of Paris and French people seem to understand me just fine. As does my French husband.

I asked my volunteer tutors to imitate my mistake so I could hear the difference; however, I was unable to detect the distinction. Perhaps it had something to do with their accents. Just a guess. I finally was saved when my French teacher interrupted and confirmed that I was saying it correctly, I just had an American accent. Something that I doubt I'll lose anytime soon as I don't have the financial incentive or talent of Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron. I wanted to point out that the Cambodian woman has an accent while speaking English, which I would have done, but I thought it would seem petty considering she speaks four languages (Cambodian and Chinese - fluently, French and English - high beginner).

While I’ve learned to accept constructive criticism from other immigrants regarding vocabulary, grammar, and obvious mispronunciation of words, e.g., canard = duck vs. connard = moron, I have not reached the point where I am willing to play Eliza Doolittle to novice francophones - especially when the panel is comprised of a person who cannot pronounce at least 3 consonants in French, another who rolls her Rs into next week, and a third who relies on the Slovenian alphabet.

There are plenty of things that these women do that are far more unpleasant. For example, four hours a day the Cambodian woman obliviously picks the acne on her forehead and then uses her pinky nail to scrape and flick the oily crud onto our shared desk. The Peruvian routinely walks into the classroom late while talking on her cell phone. She also answers it in class when it rings, as do half the other students (my favorite is when "My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps . . ." blasts from the cell phone of the 40ish Kazakhstanian woman on the other side of me). Finally, the Macedonian woman might as well be a quadriplegic with tourettes. The woman never, never raises a hand to ask or respond to a question and constantly blurts out (wrong) answers. Lest you think I’m intolerant, I make fun of Americans too, but I'm the only one in this class and I'm too busy quietly documenting the annoying habits of my classmates to bother anyone.

4 comments:

Paula Lawhon said...

I'm so happy to hear you're enjoying your French classes! ;-)
But seriously, I am concerned that you may, at a later date, discover that some of these classmates have good qualities and might make fun playmates... (well, not the one who's soiling your common desk!!). If that does happen, we will have to remind you to edit or delete this post! And, how interesting that you are the only American.... Don't know why I thought there would be more.

sfgirl said...

My new rule, when I can help it is to speak French primarily with other French people so that I can learn the correct way to pronounce things. I know so little otherwise that I'm afraid that I'll lose to American accent, only to end up with a combination E.Indian/Other Asian one.

Mary said...

Although I am quite disgusted at the thought of puss and blackheads being hurled in your direction...I find a 40ish women with my lumps as ring tone the most disturbing image of all!! Remember to bloom where you're planted. Paula is right, one of those weeds may turn out to be the new Paula or Kathy. I hate to remind you but you were called Gamey Amy (by parents only, not peers) while we were growing up! You were not always the polished and bathed woman you are today. Yes, I think tolerance may be in order.

Anonymous said...

As your mother, I can definitely share your distain for the people mentioned in your blog, since I would also find them offensive if I had to share a common table with them.