The French lesson.

@xFiacre (9863)
Ireland
January 10, 2016 11:52am CST
I started at a new school on my fourteenth birthday and it sucked being the new boy among 1000 others. Everything was alien. I had been parachuted into the dismal city that was Belfast in 1972 from an idyllic existence in a remote corner of Central Africa when my parents decided to return “home” for the sake of my education; as you can tell I still have issues with it. I understood nothing of what was going on around me in that school and felt isolated, ignorant and intimidated until at the end of week one I had my first French lesson. The teacher was aptly referred to as “Wee Joe” and the boys could have been much crueler in their nick-naming. Just about everyone in the class was taller then he was, but what he lacked in physical stature he more than compensated for in voice, attitude and venom. Wee Joe blustered into the room and everyone struggled to their feet. I imitated them, not sure of why we were standing, but hey, this was Belfast. Joe flung his battered briefcase onto his desk and bellowed, “Asseyez-vous mes enfants!” We all complied. and then Joe started going round the class from boy to boy barking out the same command to each in turn, “Stand up son and conjugate the verb être to be”. The first boy stood, but that was the only part of the command he could comply with. All that came out of him was the kind of multi-tone squawk most fourteen year old boys emit before they have taken full charge of their recently broken voices. In disgust Joe moved on to the next boy who also had no problem standing but had no notion of how to complete the task and the verb être to be was left still unconjugated. It wasn’t long before Joe’s exasperation began to get the better of him, and he started to lash out at each boy who disappointed him. Faces were slapped, hair and ears were pulled and stomachs were punched. One boy was grabbed by the lapels of his blazer and pulled down to the teacher’s level and asked if he was mentally deficient before being released to spring back up again to tower over the ill-tempered Napoleon fuming beneath him. Joe was getting ever closer, but before his eyes lit on me the boy beside me got a hammering for having the temerity to ask what conjugate meant, an explanation that had not yet been given to anyone. Then Joe saw me. He seemed a bit thrown by being confronted by a new face and might even have backed off a little, unsure of who I might be. “You boy,” he guldered slightly less malevolently than when he addressed the other boys. “Stand up and conjugate the verb être to be”. I rose, and having been speaking French since I was five years old unlike the other boys who had only just begun, I delivered myself of the task with precision. “Je suis, tu es, il est …”. Joe looked at me with disbelief and admiration then cast a contemptuous sneer around the rest of class. “Can you conjugate the verb être to be in the imperfect?” His question was tentative, as if he was hoping he hadn’t pushed his luck. “J’étais, tu étais, il était ….”. Then Joe risked asking for the perfect, the future, the conditional, the past anterior till he ran out of tenses and had to move on to the subjunctive, all of which I delivered word perfect and without hesitation. He looked back around the room beaming from ear to ear. By the time I had polished off the subjunctive which I suspect Wee Joe had only a very tenuous grasp of himself, the roaring Napoleon was bleating like a little lamb in a green meadow. My successful conjugating had soothed his troubled, frustrated soul like David playing his harp for Saul, and from that day everyone wanted to sit beside the new boy from Africa in French class.
7 people like this
5 responses
@boiboing (12533)
• Northampton, England
10 Jan 16
These days they'd have taken you round the back of the bike sheds and beaten the Bejesus out of you for being a smarty pants.
1 person likes this
@xFiacre (9863)
• Ireland
10 Jan 16
@boiboing Oh I got that for being good at RE!
1 person likes this
@MALUSE (28891)
• Denmark
10 Jan 16
I had expected the post to end with something like that. You were lucky. It's not easy to be new and know more than the rest of the class.
2 people like this
@jaboUK (48829)
• United Kingdom
10 Jan 16
Well now we have the description of the 'teacher's pet'.
1 person likes this
@1creekgirl (7129)
• United States
10 Jan 16
What a great post! Glad you had a talent that raised your status among your class mates. When I was 12, we moved from a suburb in a southern city of the US to an apartment building in downtown Jersey City, NJ. Talk about culture clash. Not as extreme a difference as your situation, but although we didn't have French class, the kids loved my southern accent. There were only a few times that I felt they were speaking a foreign language.
1 person likes this
@JudyEv (90258)
• Bunbury, Australia
11 Jan 16
How handy was that! I had to look up 'gulder' - that's a new one on me.
@xFiacre (9863)
• Ireland
11 Jan 16
@judyev if you can't gulder don't go into teaching!
1 person likes this
@topffer (28569)
• France
10 Jan 16
Congratulations, many 14 years old French kids are not able to do it today. Were you in a French speaking country ? I always found funny to hear some Africans using past subjunctive and obsolete words together with a strong accent.
@xFiacre (9863)
• Ireland
10 Jan 16
@topffer I lived in Anglophone Africa but was taught French from an early age.
1 person likes this