When I was a freshman in high school my French teacher told me that she had heard from someone that I could be smart if only I tried harder. At first I was not too sure how to absorb that statement. Sure it was somewhat of a cruel thing to say to a high school freshman, but maybe she had a good reason for delivering this statement to me in front of my entire class.
She didn’t even bother to tell me this with the professionalism I expected from an overweight, boring French teacher. She delivered the line with a smugness that could only be replicated by true, obnoxious euro-trash. (Stereotyping people of all nationalities was a popular thing for me at that time in my life.)
I would have preferred maybe some informal meeting before or after class, but she decided to exhibit her power and embarrass me in front of the class. I now was left wondering who this mysterious “someone” was who had informed my French teacher of my intellectual potential only two weeks into the semester.
Had my mother phoned her ahead of time? Had my mother planted spies in the hallways?
My mother was always trying to tempt me to study more. She would offer me treats and goodies if I made high grades, but I could never quite make the leap of studying for more than 10 minutes a day from any one textbook. She always tried to tell me that if I did not improve my study habits I would surely perform poorly in college and not be able to get a good job.
I always reminded her that my best friend’s mom owned a lucrative surf shop on the island and she had barely finished high school. They had a nice large home on the water and they always had a lot of excess cash in their pockets.
My mom said they were probably drug dealers or they had some “extra” registers in their shop that the government did not know about.
“People with that much cash, must be doing something poopy,” my mother would say.
I shrugged it off and thought that maybe my friend’s mother had discovered that college was unnecessary and should I choose to embrace that discovery my mother might have nervous breakdown number two for the year. Her first breakdown was initiated by her finding a condom wrapper under my bed. Luckily she neglected to find my extensive female exploration kit, i.e. my porn collection that was sitting only a foot away from the discarded condom wrapper.
Oddly enough, after my French teacher’s demeaning comment, my participation in the class began to turn very, as the French say, “frais.” Daily, each member of the class was required to have a short one on one conversation with the teacher in front of the other students. When it was my turn I would always pronounce the phrase merci beaucoup with the drawl of the most backwoods country redneck that I could envision, “Merrrrrrciiiiiiii, boocoooooop.”
She absolutely hated me for it. She would actually snarl at me after I mocked her precious second language directly to her puffy-cheeked face. It did not help either that the entire class, except for the two nerdy honor students who were members of French club, would laugh hysterically at my mispronunciations and redneck stylings.
Then to add to her hatred for me, I would blurt out things like, “éclairs kick butt,” or “how about that guillotine,” while Madame Pastry Cheeks was learning us about French culture
Because of my intense animosity for my teacher, I began to develop a general disdain for all things French. Everything I heard about dirty armpits, taking dogs into cafes and snotty attitudes towards Americans began to take hold in my mind and became truth.
Then, a revelation. One of the lessons in our textbook pointed out that the French actually take a minimum of six weeks of vacation each year. Oh dear god, what a thought. The French must be the most intelligent culture on the planet.
But then I realized that if I had to work alongside my French teacher in a job setting, I would need at least six weeks vacation and a twenty-four hour intravenous morphine drip to get through the year. I decided that the French were not exactly trendsetters with their vacation policies, but rather, they just figured out a way to cope with life. That would explain all the wine drinking and constant smoking of cigarettes.
After this revelation, I thought I might start to accept the French culture, but because of my teacher’s attitude I decided that I couldn’t allow myself to like anything that she embraced.
At the end of the semester, each student had to perform a monologue entirely in French. It could be on any subject, but it had to be at least four minutes long. I decided that because this was my last hooray, that I needed to do something special, something that she would always be able to remember me by. Kind of a going away present, if you will.
When it was my turn I walked to the front of the class with a large paper bag that I sat mysteriously next to the podium. I could see all the students and my teacher looking curiously at the bag wondering what on earth it could be. I began my monologue with a general greeting like; “Bonjour mon amis,” and then I opened the paper bag and pulled a Mexican piñata from the bottom that was decorated from head to tail with the French flag.
Several students began to snicker quietly in the back of the classroom and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Mrs. Arc de Fatty Fat was turning as red as the beret that adorned the top of her coat rack in the front of class. I thought that her anger would prevent me from going any further, but surprisingly I received no immediate objections.
I began to explain, in English, how French culture had yet to adopt this wonderful party element from Spanish speaking peoples. I attributed their lack of party adaptation to my belief that the French hated all things “dark-skinned.”
Well, this didn’t sit well my teacher. I could see that she was about to stand up and approach me so I threw the piñata into the air and attacked it with a bat that I had hidden in the podium before class.
With one swing I separated the head from the rest of the body and oodles of travel sized packets of Brie and chocolate éclairs flew wildly into my classmates’ laps and faces. It was a scene that encompassed all the gallantry of a victory parade for Napoleon Bonaparte himself. I felt so victorious, so proud.
And then she got up from her chair and carved a direct path in my direction.
“Well, I see that you are so intelligent that you have earned yourself a failing grade for that masquerade of a final project you just presented,” said Mrs. Bastille angrily.
I smiled and said, “I will be taking Spanish as my foreign language next semester since we live in Florida and the Hispanic population is increasing at an alarming rate. After all, I like tortillas far better than rock hard baguettes.”
I then added, “I guess intelligence is really just a perception because I tried very hard on my final project. And like you said a while ago, you heard from someone that I could be smart if only I tried harder.”