Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Bitches and beaches, ohms and homes.

Now, for something a bit more lighthearted.

Today was my first day at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie.  I met, for the first time, the instructor with whom I have been corresponding via email all summer. He introduced me to several of the English faculty, and they were all very inviting, très gentils. Many of them are quite young, and the dress code seems fairly casual – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school where teachers wore baggy jeans and sweaters but the students wore leggings and leather vests, as is à la mode these days.  I suppose it’s because we’re living on a teacher’s salary…and they’re living on Mom and Dad’s.

I sat in on two courses to observe student-teacher interaction and the students’ level of English. My first course was a group of secondes (sophomores), who were a bit shy only because they weren’t sure about their English.  Once we got talking about places they wanted to visit and the current image of Barack Obama, there were several raised hands in class.  It’s a good thing I voted Democrat, as I think I might have been boo’ed out the room had I not!  After an interesting experience with lunch in the cantine (um, I think those were potatoes?), I sat in on a group of premières (juniors), who were better in terms of English-level, but more hesitant to ask questions.  They went around introducing themselves…and as the professor laughingly mentioned, we gathered that they were all between 15 and 17, lived in one of three neighboring towns, and liked sports.

Before coming to France I perused several ex-pat blogs and the online writings of assistants who had completed this program before. One of the more entertaining bits of these shared experiences is the funny way French students of English tend to pronounce our language. They have a habit, for example, of adding “h” where there isn’t one, and dropping “h” where there is. One of the girls today asked about ‘omes in America.

By far, the most funny (for us Anglophones, certainly, but perhaps not for the teacher in the course) is the difficulty students face in pronouncing the long “i” sound, as in “pieces” or, as it happened in class today, “beaches.” We were talking about reasons the kids liked their favorite country and one boy spoke up, “Well, it has good music and girls.” Another nodded in agreement, “Yes, ze girls and ze bitches.” That led to an entertaining discussion about the difference between “bitches” and “beaches,” where the teacher tactfully avoided stating the explicit meaning of the former word (offering up “female dog” instead) and a brief lesson on prononciation.

A last anecdote, one that shocked me more than the events on the RER this morning, actually. We were discussing detective novels in one of the courses, as the students are reading an excerpt from an Agatha Christie book.  The professor asked, “What’s the one detective story you’ve all read?”

The class answered in chorus, “Ten Little Niggers.”

Now, I use that word only because it’s in the actual title of the book, but let me tell you, to hear it come from the mouths of twenty-some teenagers all at once was quite a shock.  Apparently, it’s the original British title to the Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were None – a book that popularized the rhyme we normally refer to as “10 Little Indians” and a book the kids all read (in French) because their former principal insisted upon it. As an aside, the actual rhyme seems to be titled “10 Little Injuns” in its original form, reworked to the Christie title by Frank Green in 1869, then back to the form we know in the 1940s when the Christie book was published in the United States.

All in a day’s work, I suppose. I should be getting my actual schedule soon – the teacher coordinating it actually asked if I wanted a four-day weekend. I said that would be ideal.

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