Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Plus poétique

Every child in the girls' year in French school, having completed their week long internship in a business or stable or boulangerie or, in our case, several museums, has to write a report. At the Collège des vignes, that report must be 12 to 20 pages long. And, to clarify, in French.

The girls have labored and wept over this project--show of hands: can any of you who are non-native speakers drop and give me 20 pages in French?--but, the week before school let out for the vacances de printemps, each of them gave Madame Bovary, their French literature teacher, a draft. She had told them, you see, that if they gave her a draft on Tuesday she would correct their grammar and return it to them on Friday so that the students could perfect their rapports over the holidays.

Madame Bovary would be played, in the film version, by Margaret Hamilton. Don't remember who she was? How about this line: I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too! Still not there? How about: Surrender Dorothy! If you still don't know (and you probably don't, if you didn't grow up with The Wizard of Oz, look here. There is actually a certain resemblance, sans the green skin. Picture her if, instead of wearing her witch outfit, she was wearing stilettos, fitted white jeans, and a lacy black blouse over a sequined camisole, with several gold bracelets and necklaces.)

She is, to clarify once more, not real warm. All the guidance she gave the class on this report was a single page that listed the information that had to be included in the report. There was no indication of how that information should be presented: short answers? paragraphs? epistolary novel? Nor was there any discussion of how, exactly, one goes about writing a long paper. As in, first you gather information, then you organize the information, then you write an outline, then you write a more detailed, none of that. Just the one sheet of paper.

She did, in any event, correct the grammar and style on the girls' drafts and return them by the end of the week. There were lots of corrections, which I know took an age for her to make. The girls spent all day Monday putting them in to their drafts.

I asked E if there were any corrections that she hadn't understood. No, not really, she said. But something Madame had said was puzzling.

What was that?
Hoping that it didn't have anything to do with one of those inscrutable French verb forms, passé simple in conditional voice or something like.

She said that my style needs to be more poetic.

More poetic? Her rapport de stage was supposed to be long, in French, and poetic? I took a breath. How so?

Well, she said, I had written that, before we went to the Horniman Museum, I hadn't expected to like it very much, but that, after we went, I liked it a lot. She changed that.

How did she change it?

Well, she said, and took her own deep breath, instead of saying, j'aimais bien l'Horniman, which is what I'd written, she changed it to read, j'étais séduit par l'Horniman.

Séduire, for those of you who have forgotten, means to seduce. Thus: seduced by the Horniman.

More poetic, indeed.


  1. Seduced by a museum :) Wouldn't it be wonderful to be free enough to get seduced more often! By museums and nature and food and ....

  2. Ain't comparative culture grand?I'm so proud of both of your girls and you for your patience and restraint. I was always sooo happy that I spoke French for fun and not for a living. Not to mention having been happy that I did my education in the USofA. Lordy!

  3. I'm so there with you, in spirit. My eldest just got the final grade on her 'rapport de stage'. The whole thing was quite an epic trail. Luckily, I have a non-French friend living nearby (who has much older kids) who'd warned me at the start of the year "Oh-Valentine's in 3eme this year? That means 'rapport de stage' in the spring. Start NOW!" If she hadn't cued me in, I'd have had no idea what a big deal it is and what a lot of competition there is for good 'stage' locations.
    Luckily, your girls had a great place to go and lots of interesting material to work with, I imagine. I'm sure they'll do very well.

    And for all the non-French speakers out there: 'seduire'(seduce)is not quite the same word in French as it is in English. They are not exactly false cognates, as the French word does have the sexual meaning that it does in English, but it also has a much milder one: charm. As we boarded the tain in Paris last week, the SNCF agent at the Gare de Lyon called us 'passagers seduisantes'. He did not mean he thought we were looking for some hot train sex. He was calling us "charming passengers". Very sweet, really and quite... poetic.

  4. As a former English teacher, all I can say is the French ARE different. I can never imagine telling my students to be more poetic. Obviously a failure of imagination on my part.