Tag Archives: ensuing hilarity

A picture worth more than 1000 words

This is the face one of my students made upon trying a PB&J for the first time.

True Frenchman that he is, he carefully picked at the bread, pecking at the bits that weren’t poisoned with peanut butter.

A not-so felix Félix.


L’école vs. school

For class today, I gave this presentation on a few obvious differences between American and French schools. Click the link if you’d like to follow the slides as I tell you the story of how it went.

Slide 1:
Me: This is the school I attended when I was your age.
Students: It’s so big!

Slide 2:
Me: Most American children can’t walk to school, so we ride special school buses that look like this. [Expects another “It’s so big” reaction.]
Student, accustomed to public buses: Do you need a bus pass to get on?

Slide 3:
As I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for my students, it occurred to me how utterly creepy it is. In high school, I got all up in arms about the unnecessary Red Scare era addition of the words “under God.” Yesterday was the first time I realized the sheer futile irony of adding the words “under God,” because really, the whole ritual demands the blind obedience of every Communist regime.

In France, there is an ongoing debate over whether their national anthem is too violent to teach to children. No joke: I had to learn it for French II, but I’ve met young adults in France who don’t know it, which I find strange for a nation so obsessed with its patrimony.

I challenge you to find a single American who can’t recite “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”—in their sleep, even! It’s terrifyingly nationalist!

Slide 4:
Unfortunate discussion of why Americans don’t start school at age 3, as French kids do. The French have us beat, hands down, where preschool is concerned.

Slide 5:
Me: In the U.S., you would have to go to school on Wednesdays!
To which I think: Wow, these kids are exactly their parents, making a huge stink over working extra hours. How very French they already are!

Slide 6:
Me: In the U.S., you only get a 30-minute break for lunch.
Class: QUOI?!
Me: 30 minutes.
Class: QUOI?!
Official teacher: Yes, class. You have the morning part of the day. Then you have 30 minutes to eat lunch. Then you have the afternoon part of the day.
Class: Ce n’est pas possible! Il faut plus de 30 minutes pour manger!
Me: No, you really don’t need an hour and 45 minutes to eat like you have here. And the cool part is, if you only take 30 minutes, you get to leave school at 3:30 in the afternoon!
Class: Ohhh! More TV time!

I’m not kidding about this. My students could not comprehend the concept of a short lunch break.

Slide 7:
My students think American kids are soooo lucky because they “get” to eat pizza and burgers almost every day. Kids will be kids.

Slide 8:
Class: Why do you study English? Don’t you already speak it?
Me: Why do you study French?

Slide 10:
My students were blown away by the idea that grades could be a percentage instead of an arbitrary 1-20.

And then I tried to teach them a rap from Sesame Street. They don’t have Sesame Street, so they don’t know that it would be super un-cool of them to like it if there were in America.

I’m off my next adventure tomorrow. Stay tuned for updates from Vienna!

Ellis Island, continued

Sometimes things in France are weird. The Office of Immigration, for instance.

When I had to have my chest x-rayed, I definitely thought of David Sedaris’ story of sitting in a French waiting room in his underwear. The technician sent me into a closet-sized changing room to undress from the waist up, only to cross the room back to her bare-breasted. So…why did I need to go behind a door to undress?

They tell you to keep your copy of the x-ray for future reference. I highly doubt I’ll bring this back to the U.S., but in the mean time, it’s kind of fun owning it.

If I can figure out how to strap a light to myself next Halloween, I’m going to go as See Through.

The doctor who interviewed me had a grayish face carved with a few long lines and thin-but-angry eyebrows, kind of like an aging Morticia. When she stuck the chest x-ray on the light to examine it, she asked immediately if I smoke. Her tone made me worry briefly that I should expect to drop dead any second now from lung cancer. When I said no, she looked at me in a way that said, “Yeah, right, like I haven’t heard that a hundred times, pothead.”

The best was yet to come.

Every time I’ve explained my medical history since March 2008, I’ve found a dark humor in watching doctors react when I tell them I’ve had malaria. For a moment they think I’m joking, and I can see the thoughts rushing behind their furrowed brows when they realize I’m serious—“But you are American…and alive…”—until they manage to formulate a more polite way to ask, “Where the hell’d’ya find that?!” Friday’s doctor was no exception until she expected me to know which strain I had. I told her I didn’t know and worried for the second time that she wouldn’t let me stay in France.

The real fun, however, came when she asked if I take any medications on a regular basis.

“Oui,” I said. Most medications have the same name in French, just pronounced differently, so I said, “Je prends 15 mg par jour d’Adderall,” making sure to hack up the double R as if it were scratching my throat.

The hacking was to no avail because she had never heard of it. Oh, dear. I would have to pull out the big guns and use the generic name.

“15 mg d’amphetamine,” I squeaked.

The Morticia lines in her face flew into a look of horror and disbelief—a look that said, “QUOI??!?!? I hope you’re mistaken!”

As I remark each time I set foot in one of its classrooms, France has yet to acknowledge the existence of ADHD. This doctor clearly thought I was hoping to set up meth labs across France.

I explained nervously that it’s a common prescription in the United States. “I know,” she said, but continued to glare at me as if to add, “but I’d rather deport you myself than let you bring your nation’s pathetic drug dependency here.”

She must have been feeling too lazy to fill out deportation paperwork, though, because she ushered me on to the next bureaucrat, who added a very official-looking page to my passport.