Posted on | June 12, 2012 | No Comments
“This girl at Kevin’s party didn’t like my Western shirt,” I say to the French girl.
“Neither did I. It was a stupid shirt.”
It isn’t a stupid shirt, it is blue and has cactus and makes me look like a Jewish cowboy. This isn’t the time to get into this argument. This is her English lesson and it is improper to waste her time.
She takes a long sip of her tea. Somehow the red colored tea goes with her red crystal jewelry. I wonder if this was planned.
“She told me I wouldn’t get laid in France,” I reveal. “And she told me like 20 times, like she wanted me to take off my shirt or something. Then she started talking in French to everyone who walked by. Chemise terriblah and pointing. I told her that I could take off the shirt, but you can’t change your horrible personality.”
She laughs and slaps five with me.
“What a beeeeitch. I think you are funny. A lot of French people wouldn’t like your sense of humour,” she says. “At my office people know me as the French girl. I am not like most French girls.”
“Yeah you are a fucking weirdo,” I reply.
I wish I could describe how endearingly stupid her hat looks. Is my fashion sense refined enough for my opinion to have value? Should I mention how stupid the hat looks?
“I love English! I am a nerd for it! A freak!” she exclaims, spitting out the words, eyes opening wide with each exclamation point in her sentence. “Sometimes I dream in it. I like the jokes. Even the stupid ones you tell.”
“That proves you’re highly intelligent.”
There’s a feather on your hat. In your cap. Fuck it.
“I feel like when I go back to France a part of me will be gone. It’s not just something I do; it’s something I am. Does that make sense?”
I’m drinking coffee, leg doing the Jimmy, temporarily feeling awe as a French girl speaks English in a Parisian accent.
Due to my experience living at Hotel Internationale, where all my roommates are ESL students I have come to love the sound of learning English. With roommates from Spain, France, Germany, Lollipop Land, Rwanda and Japan, I have gone to many parties where I am the only Canadian.
The study of English was particularly soul wrenching for my roommate Mayumi.
It took a while to break her of bad habits taught at her English school where they gave her phrases more suited to someone from the 1950s than a modern Japanese girl.
“You bet, Mike. You bet.”
“You aren’t from Riverdale, Mayumi.”
“Archie. You aren’t from where he is from.”
“Who is Archie?”
Some jokes were lost in translation, other times I got to hear her beautiful care free laugh. During the many times I spoke too quickly for her to understand, there would be a pause in the conversation. I loved these pauses.
She would pause for as long as ten seconds to find the perfect word, checking her IPHONE’s dictionary.
As a writer few things are more impressive than someone who cares about the words they pick to the point of choosing awkward silence over saying the wrong thing.
“My life is so much harrrder than yours,” she would taunt me.
This is true.
On Mayumi’s trip to Peru she developed altitude sickness, experienced food poisoning and had her camera stolen by Peruvian toughs. She said she had a great trip, because she learned how much she loved Spanish and made friends.
I think what she meant to say is I am so much tougher than you.
Back to the French girl with the stupid hat.
“When I was a kid I was very stubborn,” says the French Girl.
The French girl remains stubborn. When I recommended she read Twilight she gave me the finger, saying she didn’t want me to take it easy on her. She is currently reading Watchman and will soon enter the world of Hunter S Thompson.
“My mother was bilingual,” she begins. Her face is animated like an actress on a TV show, someone who is taken by their own words, so there is little distance between the passion she feels and the passion she shows. You can almost feel what she feels by looking at her.
“ My mother would only speak to me in English when I was a kid,” she says. “When I turned five, I said to my mom “Why are you not talking to me as everyone does?” I could see her talking to everyone else in French. I really loved the relationship that was extremely close that we had with eachother. I didn’t want her to treat me differenly. I don’t know why, at one point, my mother is speaking French with everyone else. I just wanted to be as everyone else to her. I insisted she speak to me in English. I was stubborn. I could have spoken perfect English for free. Now I have to work at it and pay you.”
“You are lucky. You have the best teacher.”
“Cheapest and best teacher. Same cost as two beers for English. I am stealing from you,” she says. “It’s funny. My mother loves me and wants me to be around her all the time. Like most mothers. Always wants to be in touch. But she is happy I am here, learning English. It’s like when I am speaking English she is right here with me. It’s like after all this time I am willing to accept what she was trying to give me.”
Greeting cards and movie scripts flash through my brain. Somehow every word of English she speaks is saying I love you. A whole language made into a love song to a parent.
“Holy shit,” I say. “I can just picture you in France as an old lady talking to tourists, sneaking English poetry into your newspaper. You are going to be super creepy, a miser obsessed with English.”
“It’s not just the words that are exciting, or the way it sounds. It’s the way of thinking behind the words. I don’t know if I am explaining it right.”
The double espresso kicks in.
I feel honoured to be a part of this journey and high as shit on caffeine. To know that the words I teach her are going to be used in a thousand conversations. That in some small way I get to help her tell the story of her own life. It’s moments like this that make me teach English. Seeing someone love language like this reminds me why I dedicated my life to it. How much brighter the world becomes when I have the words to describe it. How each word brings me closer to the world, let’s me see deeper into it. How conversation can be something holy. How reading can be an answered prayer.
In other words….literacy….fuck yeah! Coffee! Coffee! More coffee!
I idly wonder how many coffees it would take to show me the face of God. I take this rant from my head to her ears.
“Every time you learn something you get to see more of the world,” I say. “It’s like sitting here having coffee, going over your English is like taking a trip. Only it’s not going to a location. It’s decorating your home. It’s changing where you get to live ”
She grins and I can feel the strange beauty of our language and it’s incredible power to give life back to you.
Then I deep throat my foot.
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