When I entered 6th grade, the Gods That Be deemed it an appropriate time to instigate a new educational objective: Teaching the Kids a Foreign Language.
Why said Gods chose FRENCH was beyond me: nobody I knew was French, or spoke French. Indeed, France was improperly identified by many at my grade level as possibly being located in: Africa, South America, maybe next to England or perhaps teetering on the border of Russia. It was ALL a mystery.
Even MORE mysterious was the method employed to teach us French. Obviously somebody had envisioned a new way of ‘engaging’ students in Foreign Language at an Age-Appropriate Level.
We were to learn and perform Little Red Riding Hood. In French. In front of our parents (ultimately: it was a coup de’ etat meant to further our advanced school’s standing in the ongoing competition among the ranks….)
As usual, I was completely befuddled by the educational direction being presented. I had NO CLUE as to how learning Le Petit Chaperon Rouge was gonna benefit me in France, why French (only) was Today’s Special, or what I was possibly going to do with said French (science and math were puzzles enough in those days…)
But no problem: I figgered it out in usual Diane fashion … ALL ON MY OWN.
And duly informed my Mother.
Me (rushing home, excited): MOM! Pack my bags! I’m going to FRANCE.
Mother, by now used to far worse destination threats, barely missed a beat in Folding Sheets.
Mom: Oh? That’s nice, dear. And how are you getting to France?
Me (self-importantly): The SCHOOL is sending me! [Proffering the required piece of paper] You have to sign this Permission Slip! It’s the FIELD TRIP OF A LIFETIME! Boy, this SO beats the Zoo….
(Mom always blanched when she saw the school logo heading any paperwork. It seldom promised good news. Sentences tended to run on the theme of “Diane is a great student and a pleasure to have in class BUT….”)
Mom (examining the slip): It says here they are asking my permission for you to learn French.
Me: Yup. In preparation for GOING TO FRANCE.
(Obviously it was the ONLY logical end result of the educational objective being proposed).
Mom sighed and signed and in due course myself and the rest of my class dutifully memorized the entire Little Red Riding Hood play in French. Our smallest girl – much to her chagrin (as she was always being teased for being skinny and short) – was chosen to play Riding Hood. The biggest bully in class was the Big Bad Wolf. It was impeccable casting.
I can still well recall the singsong chorus of our young voices proclaiming: “Jourmepelle La Petit Chaperon Rouge”.
One puzzle still remained, though. Mom could obviously solve it.
Me: Mom, when I go to France, will I be met with police at the airport and taken away?
Mom: Why on EARTH would you think such a thing?
Me: I figger if the first words out of my mouth in French proclaim my name to be Little Red Riding Hood, it’ll all be downhill from there (boy, I loved using Adult Phrases…).
Mom performed a common move: turning away, her shoulders shaking as she struggled futilely for a proper response.
I continued the extrapolation:
Me: And when the Men in White take me away to the insane asylum, because I will ONLY know the Little Red Riding Hood play, I’ll not be able to speak to anybody around me in French and I’ll be stuck there forever with nobody to talk to.
By then Mom was in tears. And she obviously had no answers for me (…as usual. Moms can be SO DUMB….)
Back to school. By then I had a counter-proposal, having duly memorized Le Petit and found it sadly lacking in adequate preparation for my European Vacation. Approaching The Teacher after class was definitely the way to go in such matters, I’d discovered.
Me (firmly, as I’d seen my mother do): Miss __, I need to talk to you.
Miss__ (warily, from sad experience: nothing good ever came of me showing up after class): Sure, what’s up?
Me: It’s about French.
Miss_: You appear to be doing well with it. The play is next week.
Me: I know. I have completely memorized Le Petit and I’m ready for the Next Level.
Me: I KNOW why we’re doing this. And I have nothing against France, mind you. I’m sure I shall enjoy it.
Me: ….ahem. HOWEVER. I need to know the French for these words, if I am to actually communicate in a meaningful manner on my journeys.
A list is handed over. In crayon. And it includes the words (best as I can recall…it was a while ago, now): hamburger, French fries (hey, I figgered they’d be even better from The Source), bathroom, bed, candy, etc.
Me: FURTHERMORE: my grandmother is from Hungary, my grandfather from Greece, and my father from Romania. Could you throw in a little of THESE languages and perhaps extend my travels from France to their countries? Since I’m already over there, it makes COMPLETE SENSE.
Miss___ (still stuck on the previous train of thought – which has apparently left the station and is barreling down the tracks like a runaway lunatic): You are going to France?
Me (astonished): YES! Of course! YOU are sending me! Why else have I memorized ALL THIS FRENCH the last 2 months?
Miss__ is incoherent, having turned away, shoulders shaking mysteriously.
Me (advising): Of course, if it were ME doing the teaching, I’d kind of add some more USEFUL language skills to the mix. (Thoughtfully.) The only place I’m gonna land in France is in the insane asylum, if I get off the plane telling everyone my name is Le Petit Chaperon Rouge….
I didn’t get to France. I didn’t even get out of San Francisco. It was made plain that our entire endeavor was primarily to amuse the Parental Units, who duly came to our play and practically spilled into the aisles laughing when the Big Bad Wolf bully decided to put an end to Riding Hood’s obvious suffering and added a Chase Scene, with appropriate screams from the bilingual choir egging the whole production on.
(…wonder how that unexpected scene evolved? Of course, I had an ‘in’. Having discovered The Travel Rip-Off early, I will now readily admit to presenting said Bully with a GREAT idea for “injecting some life” into an otherwise-boring, totally useless endeavor….)
Pouvez Vous parlez Français?
Oui! Jourmapelle Le Petit Chaperon Rouge!