My father loved the French, he loved the food, the music and the language. However, I had heard stories, stories that scared me. I’d heard stories about aloof, mean spirited people who hate Americans and who refuse to give direction to American tourists. My first lesson with a French client was cautious. During that lesson my learner asked if I could confirm stories of Americans pouring their French wines into the streets in response to Jacques Chirac’s refusal to support George W. Bush’s in his decision to send military to Iraq. He also asked me to explain exactly what a Freedom Fry is. I smiled and silently nodded my head in the realization that I was going to love working with the French.
The French are reserved and they are very nationalistic. I like to describe them as being hard and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy in the center. If you can break through the outer shell they are devoted and warm and genuine. They love Americans and they hate Americans. After all, we have given them ample reason for both sentiments.
I had a young woman as a learner who moved from the French city of Lyon to the south of France where her boyfriend works as a firefighter. The south of France is very dry and the French government is vigilant about precaution. Veronique is a woman I will always carry in my heart. Prior to her move to the south she had been in a serious motorcycle accident and the medical professionals told her parents that she would not walk again. Through sheer perseverance and will she proved them wrong and continues to enjoy the wind in her hair from the seat of a motorcycle. Veronique lived in a small, renovated, 16th century abbey. She was very content with a simple existence, shelter, food, her boyfriend and her dog. Her English lessons were paid by her the company that employed her as a point of contact for international lecturers. On the weekends Veronique, her boyfriend and her dog went on hikes in the surrounding hills and would then lovingly share the details of what she had seen during her next lesson.
As an example, one weekend the trio encountered a shepherd while walking in the nearby hills. He told them that he had been a Paris policeman and had given up the stress of crime and corruption for days filled with walking through fields tending to sheep. He and his wife managed a small farm where they would raise their soon to be born baby and never regretted giving up life in one of the most exciting cities in the world. As if this image was not enough to leave me longing, she then described walking over the next hilltop to find the ruins of a Cathar Castle neatly nestled in the valley where no one but wandering hikers or a lonely sheep herder would find it. I had been living in a middle class suburb of Kansas City for 15 years longing for fresh landscapes, exciting adventures and new experiences. The image brought me to tears.
My lessons with Veronique ended and it is unlikely that we will work together again however, shortly after her last lesson I received an envelope in the mail. Inside the envelope I found a photo of a lovely Veronique standing in front of a red motorcycle, a postcard of an endless field of purple and a sprig of lavender picked from the fields near Montpelier.