July 20, 2002
Do Svidanya French Week

My subconscious must have been bothered that I never gave French Week proper closure, because last night I dreamed I was in a French class. It was the first day, and I was called on to read aloud from the textbook. As I stood up, I saw that the sentence I was supposed to read started with a Cyrillic character - the reversed "R" that makes an appearance in English text when the designer wants it to look "Russian". In fact itís pronounced "ya", and in Russian it means "I" (thatís the first person singular pronoun, not the letter). I was flummoxed because I had no idea how I ought to say it in French. I thought about going with the Russian pronunciation, but as the awkwardness of my pause grew I realized it would be less humiliating to ask than to get the first word in the first sentence on my first day of class wrong. So I did, and one of my fellow students piped up with a condescending, "Itís Ďzhuhí as in, ĎJe parle francais.í"

I mumbled something about confusing it with a Cyrillic character, but stopped short of trying to work in a snide comment about Napoleonís crushing defeat in Russia, because after all I was there to learn French.

Oddly related - I once had the privilege of being scolded for not speaking French by Roger Shattuck. I was one of the dramaturgs on an adaptation of a play by Alfred Jarry, and Shattuck was part of a pre-show panel. When I defended myself by telling him Iíd chosen to study Russian instead, he replied, "Young lady, Russians choose to learn French."