Guest Blog from France: Language = Opportunities!

We are very lucky to have our second guest blog from science teacher extraordinaire, Mary Patterson. If you were in Paris this summer, you might have seen Ms. Patterson having some exciting adventures. And now you can read the story yourself in this silly post:
I spent several weeks in France this summer, and it was amazing to get a taste of a different culture, especially through its language.  I’ve done a bit of traveling, but mostly in countries where English was spoken or in countries where I had not studied the language at all, so that expressive facial gestures and hand motions were the only way to communicate.  Thankfully, due to many, many…many years of French classes, I found myself able to understand a larger portion of conversations that I had imagined.  I even felt comfortable when out and about, conducting all my business transactions in French.  It was quite exciting!
So I had this on my mind as I was wandering around Paris one morning.  I happened to be in front of a major tourist destination, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is a very old church with beautiful gargoyles and stone arches, and a long interesting history. While admiring the building, a young boy came up to me and said, “ blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, photo?”  Clearly, my French wasn’t perfect.  He said it again, “blah, blah, blah, blah, photo?”

My thoughts took a few seconds to decide that I wanted to know what he was asking.  The easier route would have been to dismiss him with a shake of the head, or a “no, merci.”  And with good reason.

a)   Tourist areas are notorious for being places where people are scammed (I had already encountered a scam earlier in the week, where a woman said, “Oh, you dropped something!” and when I looked it was a big gold ring.  I had heard that if you take it, you are then asked to pay for it.  Good thing I had been warned about it in advance!)

b)   In the U.S., most families don’t encourage kids to go up to complete strangers by themselves, and typically parents keep a close eye on younger family members in crowded public places…

Despite this, I just really wanted to know what he was asking so that I could properly and honestly answer him. It took a few minutes of me asking, “You want me to take your photo?” “You want to take a photo of me?” “You want me to take a photo of Notre Dame?”  Finally, he gestured to an area where there were some other people.  I walked over, still slightly skeptical, where he pointed to a woman who clarified, in French (so I still think my language skills deserve some credit), that she was leading a group of kids on a scavenger hunt and that they needed to round up 50 people for a group photo!

OH!  Bien sûr!  Oh course I will be in your scavenger hunt photo!

As I looked out, I saw more kids all over the plaza asking people to participate.  Most of the time they would come back with a disappointed face saying, “No one will come, they all speak English!!”  Since the kids spoke French and most of the tourists did not, they were having a hard time rounding up enough volunteers!  I am sure that many of the tourists had skeptical thoughts like my initial ones, that made them give a quick “No” as an answer.

I tried to help by having them learn “Will you be in a photo with me? For a game?” But after some slow repetition, there was a lot of eye rolling, and exclamations of, “C’est dificile!” (That’s hard!)

Eventually they rounded up about fifteen or so people, including several backpackers, a french family, two italian men, and three police on bicycles, and called it a good effort.  After we took the group photo, I turned to the kids and asked, “Do you want to be in a photo with me?”  They laughed and as we all agreed to make “visage grimace”, which I assumed was a crazy face, but just in case asked for them to make “happy” visage grimace.  And this is the result!

They just about made my day, and if I hadn’t had enough patience that day, or if I doubted my language skills, I never would have met this fun group of kids or participated in this little adventure!

~Ms. Patterson

P.S. Thank you to all of my language teachers over the years!


Comments and questions would make Ms. Patterson very happy. Let her know what you think of her story! If you are on the Effective Communication team at IACS, spread the word to friends to check out their teacher’s post.

Categories: Guest Posts

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5 replies »

  1. Pretty neat, Ms. Patterson!!

    That picture of the castle is really really cool!! How much do you know of its history? Was it haunted or anything?
    I didn’t know much about the scam thing, but I’m glad you didn’t pick it up! Is it very common in other countries as well?
    For the scavenger hunt photo, maybe you could have gone with at least 1 student, and, because you’re an American, you could translate to the American tourists what the student says. Or at least tell them what they want.
    But I think the photo was really good!!!! 😀

    😉 ~ Anna

  2. Ms. Patterson, please take a picture of the romantic Paris! I’ve never actually seen what it looks like. Keep posting pictures of France!


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