Monday, 3 December 2012

Talking about my generation


Brilliantly, hilariously stressful day today, with phone going off left right and centre. It started badly, which should have been evident to anyone who read my optimistic post about getting up early every day being good for you. There is absolutely no way Fortune, that arrant whore, would let me get away with something like that. I woke up late, found every other mother’s son (and daughter) had used every drop of hot water, scrubbed myself in cold water and ran to my office.
Let me be clear here for a second. While I run every evening, and I try to keep my stamina up, and I watch what I eat, I do not enjoy running in the slightest. It makes one sweaty, it makes a mess of one’s hair, and if there is ice on the ground then you will hit it and you will have that sphincter-tightening moment when you totally lose control of your own limbs.
And that is not cool, and since I am not a cool guy, I take every effort to fool everyone in the world that I am a cool guy. And flailing like a scarecrow whose arms are attached by rubber bands is not what cool guys do.
So after the judges awarded their scores (turns out I’m not going to the Winter Games) my day proper began. Last minute guests are turning up for the dinner – I previously mentioned how the French view deadlines – and, simultaneously, the event organiser at the Palais du Luxembourg is asking for final numbers. My abilities, while magnificent and impressive, do not stretch to telling the future, and so there have been an awful lot of very terse conversations in French. As it happens, these are very much like terse conversations in English, only with slightly shorter pauses and foreign words.
My oral class this evening put together a song by Tom Lehrer, and I encouraged them to sing it. This, despite being almost the same age as these students and knowing full-well the acute onset of embarrassment that comes with being asked to sing at all, let alone a verse with no rhythm markers in a language that is not one’s own. I still had them singing it, because once one gets over the primary hurdle of embarrassment together, everyone feels more at ease. I am the walrus, and I weigh two tons.
Finally, my evening lesson. A student who has made huge progress in the past 8 weeks but still insists on focussing on her faults and errors. It’s agonising to watch her agonise over them, but we looked over the notes and I tried to show her how far she’s come. I think the volume alone may have convinced her; 18 sides on out first lesson compared to the five we made today (and most of that taken up with an amusing tangent on the evolution of Asian languages).
I confess, I’m still stunned every single time a French person pulls out a chequebook to pay for things in the supermarket. I would love to know what the draw is; I’m pretty sure nobody of my generation could write a cheque because there’s simply no need. We use chip and PIN. Not PIN number, which was an interesting discussion from today – PIN stands for Personal Identification Number, so PIN number is redundant. Like ATM machine. I learnt that from a student, which I thought was pretty brilliant. I know, I’m learning from them, they’re learning from me.

Last thought. Play Scrabble in English with a French set. Weighted enormously in our favour. Just a quick heads up.