Friday, January 11, 2013

French Class

Happy Friday to all our loved ones, near and far. For those of you who have messaged us with news of terrible Australian brush fires, pythons, arsonists, and heat waves-- we are happy to report that we are still alive and well. In fact, Sydney has dodged even the heat: while the rest of the country suffered with 100+ degrees for over a week, our string of pleasant 75 degree days was interrupted only once. It shot up to a blistering 107 on Wednesday, but fell back to a cool 72 again the next day, and besides, we had plenty of bubble tea and frozen yogurt to tide us over through the worst of it. (The temperatures are back up to 97 today, so we're taking refuge in the Sydney aquarium, courtesy of Lauren Walter).

Speaking of ice cream, I was relieved to discover that Ben and Jerry's made it across the shores of the Pacific. Pints of ice cream clock in at a jaw-dropping $11.90, but we spotted a Ben and Jerry's scoop shop near Bondi beach and treated ourselves to two (cheaper) scoops of 7 Layer Bar ice cream. Everyone, try it today. Amazing. There are so many other capitalistic creature comforts from home: 7-11 (I've been doing the Walter family proud with my regular slurpee indulgences), Subway, Nando's Peri Peri chicken, Aldi's grocery store, Starbucks. In true globalized fashion, however, some familiar chains have made some adjustments for their Aussie audiences: Starbucks offered all of its holiday drinks in frappuccino form to account for opposite seasons (no eggnog here, unfortunately); "Macca's"--slang for McDonald's--offers the "big Aussie Brekkie" sandwich.

So Nod and I are now coming up on the end of our first full week in Australia, and it's been a full week for sure. Nod has a 4 day work week and still logged about 45 hours. Partly to avoid paying for train tickets, partly for exercise, and partly to explore the city, we've still been walking everywhere. It's averaged some 8-10 miles each day, and by the end of the night we usually end up collapsed with our feet in the air, swearing that tomorrow we'll take it easy, and then doing it all over again.

But the novel part of the week for me has been the beginning of French class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I ride the train an hour to a northern suburb of Sydney to a little branch office of the Alliance Francaise. The class consists of an irreverent, saucy, wise-cracking French teacher, two Australian retirees, et moi. One of the students, Marilou, takes it upon herself to not only do all her of assigned homework and any number of additional exercises she decides to do on her own. She also corrects the other student and I as we hopelessly butcher the grammar, syntax, and pronunciation of this august language. The other student, David, is blissfully clueless, providing Marilou with endless opportunities for peanut gallery instruction.

During my first day of class, the teacher asked us to introduce ourselves to one another in French. 68-year-old Marilou went first, rattling off several pristine sentences in perfect French about her age, profession, nationality, and interest in the French language. The teacher turned to David, a military retiree who's about 73 years old. David stretched his arms, settled back in his chair, and responded with, "Roight." He nodded to the teacher that he was finished with his turn. The teacher prompted him, "David, usually we begin with Je m'appelle..." David cut her off, "Roight, roight. Je m'appelle David." Marilou, who had been biting her tongue with impatience, jumped back in. "Your age, David, your age!" The teacher turned to shush Marilou, then to try once again to pull a few more phrases out of David. The entire classroom devolved into a friendly session of bickering and bantering between the three that eventually ended in the teacher mock-slapping Marilou and putting David on a time-out before finally turning to me and asking me to introduce myself to the class.

Feeling a bit more like I've been invited into a strange family's living room rather than a French class, I settle in quickly to the warm, albeit unconventional atmosphere. Pretty soon the teacher has us all sitting in a circle miming our daily routines to practice reflexive verbs: I practice waking up Marilou for breakfast, she mimes as if she's taking a shower, David pretends to shave, the teacher washes our clothes. Somehow I think that the state department and other government employees I took French classes with in DC last summer would have objected a bit more strenuously to this kind of self-effacing play acting, but with David and Marilou, it's all in good fun. We wrap up the class by listening to a horrible French rock song five times in a row to practice new vocabulary. David puts his hands over his ears and sticks out his tongue. It's going to be a pretty great eight weeks with this group, although I'm not sure how well my French is actually going to progress. A demain!

1 comment:

  1. Love all of the postings! (Yours and Nod's) I realize I should have been more specific in picking "Mom" as my name, but if I comment only on yours it will work :) I love your French class! Is the related Spanish grammar coming back to you and helping - or Arabic, Spanish and French just muddling it all up? Au revoir! Y buena suerte. (French + Spanish = Spench? Franish?)