Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's French to Me

There came a time, around my junior year of college, when I realized I had enough credits to qualify as a French minor to go along with my English major.  There also came a time, when I realized I really, really liked this guy in my French pronunciation class, that if I continued to take more French courses, I could graduate with a double major, French/English.

That doesn’t mean I can actually speak French.

The cute guy eventually became my tutor, and then my husband.  My mother often tells him how much money he owes her because, dag nabbit, if she sent a kid to college to get a French major, said kid ought to be able to at least order off a French menu with a modicum of confidence.

As my French teacher, the wonderful Madame Marzi, once said to me, “You have a wonderful accent.  If only I could teach you to actually speak French.”

Why do I bring this up?  Well, as luck would have it, tonight, we welcome a French exchange student to our home for ten days.  She is visiting us from a coastal town in France—the same one that my husband visited when he was part of the first group to partake in this exchange thirty years ago.  We are all very excited:  my daughter, because the young woman visiting us is the same age as she is and seems to have the same interests; my son, well, because he’s twelve and what twelve-year-old wouldn’t want a female French exchange student living in his house?; my husband because he is thrilled that the program is still in existence and thriving; and me…

Well, I’m not so sure.  See, the French exchange student will be spending most of her free time—the time when she’s not at school with my daughter or visiting New York City—with me.  The French major.  The woman who once told her children, in French, while on vacation in Quebec, that we would soon visit the factory to make cheese.  (What I meant to say is that we would soon visit the pool to go swimming.  Trust me, a lot of these vocabulary words sound the same.)

The goal of her visit is to speak as much English as possible, something that will be necessitated by spending time with me, the non-French speaker.  I am hoping that her English will be better than my French, but based on our meeting with last year’s participants, it’s a virtual crapshoot.  Some students have more English than others and are very enthusiastic about using the language, while others have a rudimentary knowledge of English and prefer to speak their native tongue. 

Regardless, it should be interesting.

And fodder for future books.

At the very least, it has gotten my family on board with cleaning.  She will be staying in my son’s room, which has become the de facto guest room for all visitors.  He remarked the other day that his room never looked so clean, and that he liked it that way.  (We’ll see how long that lasts.)  I spent the better part of Saturday at the laundromat washing blankets, comforters and sheets so all bedding in our house is nice and fresh.  I scrubbed the bathroom tile and grout so that the room feels new again.  If nothing else, her visit has prompted us to make this place spic and span.

Stayed tuned for updates on her visit and for the misadventures of “Maggie, the Only Diploma-ed French Major Who Can’t Speak French.”

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Okay, maybe fourth time's the charm! Blogger doesn't seem to want me to comment today. Grrr!

    Maggie, you are too funny! I know Eva's going to love her time with you and your fab family! I wish I could pretend to be an exchange student so I could come stay in your very clean house for a while. Then I could ignore the fact that my house needs a good cleaning. (Argh, scrubbing tiles! That's been on my to-do list for an eternity!) Hugs!

  2. P.S. That comment was from me, Susan McBride. I am not feeling the Blogger love today. :-(

  3. Thanks, Susan! Our visit is going swimmingly. She is lovely and her English is remarkable, even if she doesn't think so. I actually translated "applesauce cake" successfully this morning and she enjoyed her slice very much (knowing what it was). I just asked her IN FRENCH if I could fill up her water bottle. It's true what they say about immersion; the more you speak, the more you realize you learn/know. I'll keep you posted on what's happening! Maggie

  4. Maggie, I'm glad you're having a good time. I took one semester of French and it is a lovely language.

  5. Oh, I forgot to mention a story my aunt likes to tell, of when she and my uncle were in Paris. She spoke a little French, but couldn't think of the right words when they had to go to the hospital because she had a really painful calcium deposit in her shoulder. All she could come up with in French was "milk ball," so she told them she had a milk ball in her shoulder. At least she didn't say, "Milk Dud." ;-)

  6. My daughter had a French student for awhile and loved the experience and the girl. A granddaughter (not that daughter's child) was about the same age and they hung out together and years later she returned to the US for a visit and stayed with the granddaughter who had by this time grown-up and married. They still correspond.


  7. I enjoy your posts very much. They are as delightful as your books, which I also enjoy.

  8. Lil, thanks so much! We are enjoying our time with our new friend. She giggles every time I speak French and I'm not sure how to take that, but I'm being a good sport. :-) We introduced her to Target yesterday and she was smitten. She pronounced it "VERY BIG!!!" Maggie