by Andrea Albanese
Vive la France!!
Recently, I have been reuniting with some old classmates
via the internet.
We were recalling that, when required to choose a
second language to study,
some chose Spanish; a few of us chose French.
In comparing notes, we found
that those of us who chose French shared
an odd compulsion to annoy
French-speaking people whenever we encountered
them by uttering completely inane
French phrases. While in school,
were required to memorize dialogues.
These were a series of conversations
designed to develop our French conversational skills.
the only phrase anyone remembers is, “Ou est la bibliotheque?” which
means, “Where is the library?” Because that is all we remember,
we are on an ongoing quest to
find a time and place to use this phrase.
Now, “Where is the library?”
is not a question that comes
up often. If you are in your own neighborhood,
you probably already
know where the library is. Besides which, most of your
speak French and would probably think you were having some sort of
episode, call 911 and cause all sorts of trouble. You would then be
required to explain to
the EMS technician that you were not at all
interested in finding the library but only
wanted to speak French.
They would then take you to the psychiatric unit. There is also the
possibility of emotional distress. For example, one classmate when
traveling in France, was
exceedingly disappointed to learn that French
people do not spend a great deal of time
about the library.
She became completely depressed and did not speak for the rest of the
Spouting irrelevant French phrases can also be dangerous. Another
of my classmates,
who had expanded his
French repetoire somewhat, described
an incident in Quebec:
Upon leaving his hotel, he noticed a car with
a flat tire. He could not resist saying to the owner, “ La
pneu est plat.” (The tire is flat.) Now, I don’t know about
you but whenever I had to deal
with a flat tire, the last thing I needed
was someone not carrying a jack pointing out
my inconvenient situation in French. As you might expect, the owner
cursed him out in
excellent French. He really should have stuck to
asking about the library.
I too, have been affected by this odd phenomenon.
Upon arriving in London for
the first time in my life only an hour
earlier, I could not resist responding to a request for directions
by French tourists. You can imagine how helpful I was. Here’s
what puzzles me: Of all
the people I know who studied Spanish, not
a single one has ever asked a Spanish-speaking
stranger where the library
is. Nor have they any desire to construct idiotic Spanish sentences.
As a result, they pretty much keep out of trouble. We, of course, never
learn, and will continue in our
pathetic attempts to engage French
people in conversations about the library. Oh, by the way,
you are wondering where the library is, it is, “La bas.” wherever
that is – fin -- (that means you can turn the