Friday, October 24, 2008

I think, therefore I am

So I was at the School of French Driving the other day taking a practice test. (That statement pretty well describes most days.) I was skimming along doing quite well, thank you, missing a bare minimum of questions, guessing correctly on whether the piétons who were standing at the edge of the crosswalk leaning forward and with their left feet poised were actually engaged in crossing the street and therefore whether I needed to stop.

And I came to this question:

The photograph from behind the wheel showed a street en ville. In front of my car, the lane was blocked by temporary construction; there was a temporary light set up which was flashing yellow, giving me permission to continue avec prudence. A green Renault had already gone around the construction, following the arrows into the opposite lane.

The question: Je suis le véhicule vert. Oui ou non?

Well, I thought, I am not some kind of moron. I know I am not the green car. I am driving the car from which the photo was taken. This is not the first practice test I have ever taken. Of course I'm not the green car.

I circled B for Non.

Then the centime dropped.

In French, the verb to be is être. If you want to say I am, you say je suis. Thus the seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes translated his Latin Cogito, ergo sum as Je pense, donc je suis. I think, therefore I am.

Also in French, the verb to follow is suivre. If you want to say I follow, you say je suis.


The question was not asking if I were the green car. The question asked if I should follow the green car. I think (about the complexities of the French language, and how maybe if something doesn't seem to make sense, I should pause and consider and not just go roaring off), therefore I follow.

One more thing to remember: sometimes even if you know the language pretty well, there's a verb you miss.