Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meanwhile, Deb...

Deb, later, at the Palais Royal, Paris.

My trip to France was divided into two very distinct weeks, and so far I've only covered the first: my time touring in the southwest, mainly around the Lot Valley, with the Blue Lake Faculty Quintet.

For most of that week, while I was gigging and eating, Deb pursued her own agenda: she first became interested in France and French culture in the 4th grade, when she was introduced to the Lascaux cave paintings, which were not far from where we were in southwest France. (When Deb studies a culture, she likes to start at the VERY beginning...) Since this region was "where it all began" for her -- and, for that matter, where all of French culture began -- she was excited at the prospect of exploring this corner of France, which she'd never visited before.

Though Deb missed out on the extraordinary dining experiences that Gretchen had arranged for the group, she collected her own memorable moments. Deb's a near-native French speaker -- in fact, most folks would call her a native speaker, and regularly in France she was asked where she was from (Belgium? Switzerland?), because they could detect some hard-to-place "you're not from around here" aspect to her accent, but took it for granted she was a native speaker -- but Deb, as a professional in the language field, is very picky about the term "native speaker," which she pretty much reserves exclusively for ... native speakers, born and raised in the language.

Because Deb is fluent in French, she had experiences and interactions with French folks that were not possible for us Persons of Lesser Fluency. For example, she was carjacked by a little old French lady at the Château de Bonaguil.

(It's her story, and she should probably get her own damn blog if it's to be told properly, but basically it amounts to this: Deb went to Bonaguil on her own, several days before I visited it with the members of the quintet. An old woman spotted Deb at the château, chatted with her briefly about the unreliable cellphone coverage in the area, and then mysteriously appeared next to her in the parking lot at the exact moment she was retrieving her rental car. "Do you have a car?," she asked, as Deb was opening the door to the quite obvious and tangible car that she did indeed have -- in other words, at the point where plausible deniability ceased to be plausible.

"Um, yes," Deb responded, "bien sûr."

"Then you could give me a ride to the train station at [Unintelligible Name of Town]."

Deb, very game, said "Okay. But you'll have to give me directions to that town -- I'm not from around here, and I don't know it."

"Fine," the woman said, opening the door and getting in.

As Deb pulled out of the parking lot, she asked "Which way?," and the woman replied, "I don't know. You'll have to ask. That's why God gave us mouths..."

And so it went: Deb used her God-given mouth to ask random French people on the narrow roads of southwest France how to get to Unintelligible Name of Town -- which by then Deb had actually deciphered the name of -- and she had a nice little adventure with a nice little old French lady.

Now, if the woman had approached *me* at the moment I was opening my car door -- well, first off, she wouldn't have approached me, because I'm a scary-looking guy, while Deb's a very-nice-looking woman -- and which, by the way, is really unfair, since I'm actually a very nice person, in my opinion much nicer than Deb -- but anyway, if the woman had approached me and said "Est-ce que vous avez une voiture?" at the moment I was opening my car door, I'd have assumed that my French was somehow failing me, that she couldn't be asking me such an obvious question. First I'd have panicked a bit, and then I'd have regained my composure and blurted out "Um, euh, pardon? Uh, uh, répétez? Si voo play...," at which point the woman would've muttered "Oh for chrissakes, never mind, con," and left.

Children: please take this lesson to heart. Study a language diligently, and if you're lucky you might grow up to be carjacked by a little old lady in the country of your target language.)

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