“Me Talk Pretty One Day” By David Sedaris
From his book Me Talk Pretty One Day
At the age of forty-one, I am returning to school and have to think of myself as what my French textbook calls “a true debutant.” After paying my tuition, I was issued a student ID, which allows me a discounted entry fee at movie theaters, puppet shows, and Festyland, a far-flung amusement park that advertises with billboards picturing a cartoon stegosaurus sitting in a canoe and eating what appears to be a ham sandwich.
I’ve moved to Paris with hopes of learning the language. My school is an easy ten-minute walk from my apartment, and on the first day of class I arrived early, watching as the returning students greeted one another in the school lobby. Vacations were recounted, and questions were raised concerning mutual friends with names like Kang and Vlatnya. Regardless of their nationalities, everyone spoke what sounded to me like excellent French. Some accents were better than others, but the students exhibited an ease and confidence that I found intimidating. As an added discomfort, they were all young, attractive, and well-dressed, causing me to feel not unlike Pa Kettle trapped backstage after a fashion show.
The first day of class was nerve-racking because I knew I’d be expected to perform. That’s the way they do it here – it’s everybody into the language pool, sink or swim. The teacher marched in, deeply tanned from a recent vacation, and proceeded to rattle off a series of administrative announcements. I’ve spent quite a few summers in Normandy, and I took a monthlong French class before leaving New York. I’m not completely in the dark, yet I understood only half of what this woman was saying.
“If you have not meimslsxp or lgpdmurct by this time, then you should not be in this room. Has everyone apzkiubjxow? Everyone? Good, we shall begin.” She spread out her lesson plan and sighed, saying, “All right, then, who knows the alphabet?”
It was startling because (a) I hadn’t been asked that question in a while and (b) I realized, while laughing, that I myself did not know the alphabet. They’re the same letters, but in France they’re pronounced differently. I know the shape of the alphabet but had no idea what it actually sounded like. Continue reading