Sunday, October 15, 2006
The Rain in Spain . . .
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.