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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. Unfortunately, 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 neighbors don’t 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 speaking about the library. She became completely depressed and did not speak for the rest of the trip. 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, in case you are wondering where the library is, it is, “La bas.” wherever the @#$%^&*() that is – fin -- (that means you can turn the page)

 
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