Me Talk Pretty One Day – Difficulties in Learning another Language

I am reading David Sedaris’ funny personal essays « Me Talk Pretty Someday .» I know everyone else must have read it years ago, but I had no idea it was about an American struggling to learn French while living in France, or it would have made it to the top of my reading list long ago.   Reading in bed the other night I let out a whoop and startled my husband; another time I laughed so hard I almost cried. The following are excerpted from his book (my asides are in these shaded boxes).  CM

MeTalkPrettyOneDayCover (wikipedia)

David Sedaris

David Sedaris

 

 

 

Meaning to say “Do you understand me?” instead Sedaris says:

“You will understand me” (and) the citizens of France responded with blank stares. I picked up a few new words, but overall the situation seemed hopeless. Neighbors would drop by and I’d struggle to entertain then with a pathetic series of simple nouns. “Food, ashtray, drink?”

“Yes,” they’d agree. “That is an ashtray all right.”

CM:  It reminds of MY  first trip to France when my back went out and I could not sit in those white plastic chairs ubiquitous in European cafes. Upon entering a restaurant I proceeded to explain that I was “mal de dos” and could I please have different “assiette?”

This made sense to me as a seat or chair is an “asiento” in Spanish, but the maître looked puzzled and asked me to repeat my performance. I took a deep breath and repeated “mal de dos” and “autre assiette SVP?”

He told me “We  have only these assiettes,” while gesturing to a set table… with assorted chairs.The whole restaurant is watching now as I point to a nice wooden chair across the room.  “That one?” I asked hopefully.

After a pregant pause he replied, “Mais Madam, that is not an assiette,” and bringing me a dinner plate – c’est une assiette and…that (pointing to the chair)  c’est une chaise.”  The diners looked away hiding their smiles, while I slunk to my chaise.

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une chaise et une assiette

 

(Back to Me Talk Pretty One Day):  I’d hoped language might come on its own the way it comes to babies, but people don’t…hypnotize you with bright objects and fuss over you when you finally say “wawa.” It got to the point where I’d see a baby in a bakery… and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie down in a French crib and learn the language from scratch.

I returned to Normandy the following summer and resumed my identity as the village idiot. “See you again yesterday!” I said to butcher. « Ashtray, food ! »

Village in Normandy

Village in Normandy

I found words in the dictionary and typed them onto index cards, and committed them to memory. By the end of the month I’d managed to retain 300 nouns, none of which proved the least bit useful.

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On my fifth trip I limited myself to words that people actually use. From dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up” and “Who shit on this carpet?” …The grocer taught me how to count… I’d learned a total of 1,564 words and kept my vocabulary in a wooden box… and worried that if the house caught fire, I’d be back to square one with “ashtray” and would lose the intense pleasure I felt whenever I heard somebody use a word I’d come to think of as my own.

Mont St Michel, Normandy

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

My confidence hit a new low when my friend Adeline told me that French children make mistakes, but never with the sex of nouns.  “We hear the gender once, and then think of it as part of the word. There’s nothing to it.”  It’s pretty grim world when I can’t even feel superior to a toddler. Tired of embarrassing myself in front of two-year olds, I’ve started referring to everything in the plural, which…has solved a lot of problems… in saying the melons, you use the plural article which does not reflect gender… Ask for two or 300 melons and you are off the hook. I use the plural when shopping… the problem is finding a place (in the refrigerator) for 4 lbs. of tomatoes, two chickens and a pair of pork roasts.

 In Paris David Sedaris takes a French class with a bunch of immigrant students from a sarcastic teacher. When asked a question he writes:

The teacher’s reaction led me to believe these mistakes were capital crimes in France… She (scolds), “Even a ticiwelmun knows that a typewriter is feminine.”

I absorbed as much of her abuse as I could understand, thinking that I find it ridiculous to assign gender to inanimate objects incapable of disrobing…  these things could never live up to all their sex implied.

Tour EiffelThe teacher proceeded to belittle everyone… German, Japanese, Thai, Dutch, Korean and Chinese – we all left class foolishly believing that the worst was over…but my fear crept beyond the borders of the classroom. Stopping for coffee, asking for directions… these things were now out of the question… I was convinced everything I said was wrong.  My only comfort was that I was not alone. Huddled in the hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard at refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That be common for I, also, but be more strong, you. Much work and someday you talk pretty…maybe tomorrow okay.”

 Have you read Sedaris? Do you have a story to share about learning a language?

2014 Kindle Book Awards – A Place in the World is a semifinalist :)

Some happy news came by email yesterday: A Place in the World just made the semifinals list for the 2014 Kindle Best Book Awards in the Literary Fiction category. Finalist to be announced in September.  (In February the novel won an award with the San Francisco Writer’s Conference  in the indie category.)

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KIRKUS Reviews – A Place in the World

In this novel set in the ’70s and early ’80s, a free-spirited American girl struggles to fit in on a coffee plantation in the Colombian Andes.

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Debut novelist MacKinnon tells the story of Alicia Collier, a young woman with no particular home and little connection to her family… Alicia has lived all over the world, especially South America … By the time she begins college in Virginia, she has spent more time outside the U.S. than in it, so it’s no surprise when she decides to follow her Colombian boyfriend, Jorge, to his country for the summer…  Alicia rapidly becomes a part of the Carvallo coffee farm and, after a series of calamities, ends up running it alone… That is, until Peter Shalmers arrives from America. .. As he accepts hospitality from the Carvallo family, he and Alicia gravitate toward each other. An aspiring botanist, Alicia (takes) Peter on tours of the forest, and her affection for him grows beyond her control. In the midst of this familial and romantic drama are many compelling, detailed descriptions of the rain forest. MacKinnon brings to life the forest’s flora and fauna, the ominous and ever-present wildlife, and the tribal people hiding in the forest. The author’s meticulous detail and knowledge of the locale bring a unique richness to the novel…through the glory of the surroundings she describes.

A quiet romantic adventure well-suited for those who enjoy travelogues.

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Kirkus Reviews is a well-respected book review magazine that has been around for at least 80 years. Librarians and bookstores rely on their critiques and getting a positive review is coveted by writers so I am delighted to receive this  review.  I also received a review on Goodreads from a Canadian writer that has me glowing:

(excerpted) This well-written, riveting plot captures strong elements of friendship, love, freedom, perseverance and endurance amid all the physical and emotional challenges, heartache and pain. The pages of this novel are filled with the beauty, the grandeur, the sights and sounds of nature in the Andean cloud forest.  whitefaces www.rainforesteducation.com
The characters are well-developed, their personalities adding depth and dimension to a story that’s heartwarming and emotionally-riveting. Alicia is an educated, lovely young woman with a soft-heart, who’s determined, capable and stubborn. She befriends Carmen, the Carvallo’s housekeeper, an illiterate, earthy Colombian woman with strong maternal instincts . Together they form an unshakeable bond that transcends class and nationality…The strength of this story not only lies in a well-developed plot and characters but in the sense of historical, political and economic change that affects Colombia and its people in the late 1900’s. It’s a fascinating and moving story…see the full review on Goodreads.com review.

I feel like here is a reader that really understands what the book is about and nothing is more rewarding to an author – but she went the extra mile and wrote so eloquently.  Thank you Wendy from Ontario.  It has been a good week!

A Place in the World was reviewed on “Best-Book-Review” in the United Kingdom

“The descriptive language is evocative and at times beautiful in painting word pictures of the rain forest and cloud forest. There is a great deal of botanical knowledge on the part of the writer as she describes the flora of the region, which gives the book an authentic flavour.

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The story line gives a good insight into clashes of culture and the difficulties therein, including language and the role of women in Colombia and other South American countries. The characters are strongly depicted and Alicia develops, as the book unfolds, from being a young misfit with no real home, to being a very strong and determined woman who lives in a remote area and copes with all that life throws at her including an erupting volcano.

I enjoyed the book very much. At first I was not sure if the main theme of the story was a romance or a general family saga. In fact I found it a bit of both and a lot more. The book is well written and the pace is good. The ending has a few surprises.”

Reviewed by Janette Skinner, Best-Book-Review, UK.

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Cinda notes:

Gentle Readers: Please write me if you have read A Place in the World and tell me what you liked and didn’t like about it.  I will gladly answer any questions you have.  You might consider writing a review for Amazon or Goodreads which helps other readers decide whether they want to read it (and helps me publicize the book  🙂   A Free Ebook is available to anyone willing to write a review. (To contact me click on “Author”  and scroll down to leave message).

Note the top of my webpage has a section marked “For Bookclubs” which delves into the themes and characters.

From the Email bag:    Is Kindle the only eBook format you have for the book?

CCM: I did have an exclusive 90-day contract with Amazon but when it expired, A Place in the World became available to all online eBook retailers, including Apple iPAd, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and others.

Here are several URLs : https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/APlaceintheWorld

http://amzn.to/19wSFfX.

Email from Amy:   I like to have an actual book in my hands.  How do I order one?

CCM: Soft cover print books are available on Amazon (above) or directly from the printer

http://www.virtualbookworm.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Store_Code=bookstore&Screen=PROD&Product_Code=A_Place_In_the_World

Email from Patricia : how to order from my local bookstore?

CCM: The title, A Place in the World,  and author name might be sufficient, but to make it easy on them give them the ISBN #: 978-0-9888483-0-6 .  Tell them Multicultural Press/VBookworm will give the store a “bookstore discount” if they ask for it.

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