Thursday, December 02, 2004

Allo, Passy Vingt Deux Quinze?

I started learning French when I moved from New York City to Greenwich, Connecticut in third grade. My parents had me starting school on April 1st, not a good day to start, but I was gung-ho nonetheless. In Greenwich in those days, they started foreign languages in third grade.

Also, it meant everyone had started French in September and I was getting in VERY late to the game. Of course when you're ten years old, a few months seems like an eternity. I was really mad that they were all ahead of me and knew words like "dimanche" and "disque" and "demain" and I must have complained to my mom, who politely requested a tutor for me.

Strangely, the only tutor they could come up with was my actual French teacher. So a few times a week we had French class with Mademoiselle Sweeney and then once a week she tutored me one-on-one.

I fell in love with French that year. And I actually probably fell in love with Mademoiselle Sweeney that year. She was young and pretty and about to get married and spoke French like an angel to my mind. I wanted to be cool like her. She looked a little like Barbra Feldon who played Agent 99 on Get Smart.

One of our ALM French course dialogue -- which I memorized religiously -- had a phone conversation where the guy asks if he's speaking with "Passy Vingt Deux Quinze" and I memorized it before I knew the numbers. If you know French, you get the meaning -- he's reciting a phone number "Passy 22-15" but I didn't care what the heck he was saying. I figured if I could say that, I could turn into the fabulous cool Mademoiselle Sweeney and that's all I wanted.

I used to write the phrases and vocabulary words in big letters on a piece of paper and scotch tape it to the shower stall door so I could read them through the glass while I took a shower and memorize them. And we had little 45 rpm records with the dialogues which I nearly wore out the grooves on. I was a Francophile at age 10. I've always wondered if I have the exact same accent as the woman on those records. I bet I do.