First Days in France

This is going to be a little strange using a text just for inspiration. In school the objective was always to write about the text and to make some analytical observations on the text itself. I will try to spare you that since I know it isn’t what interests you in reading this blog.

So I have The Essays, which I downloaded from Kindle, and Les Essais, which I bought at what appears to be the only bookstore in Coulommiers. I was directed there by Madame LeMoys [mah-dahm luh-mwah]. She’s the principal of one of the middle schools I will be teaching at starting next week. I saw her in town while I was exploring. She was buying fruit, and rather than simply walk past (perhaps my natural inclination) I decided to go up to her and say hi. What a good idea that turned out to be! She very graciously showed me her favorite boulangerie and her favorite charcuterie, then walked me to the bookstore, chatting all the while about the history of the Collège de Madame de Lafayette and about the organization of the French school system. She told me that principals are only allowed to be in a certain school for a few years before they switch and move on to another.  I guess it follows the same principle our founders had when they established the term lengths of our elected officials: a principle that focuses on damage control more than anything else. “If this principal is no good, well at least s/he’s only here for a couple more years.”

The title of the first essay is “That men by various ways arrive at the same end.” In it Montaigne talks about the unpredicatbility of people’s actions.  He uses examples of famous kings and generals who have alternately shown mercy for those against whom they had so recently fought, or who ruthlessly slaughtered the enemy despite their bravery or even their helplessness. He tries to understand why, but realizes that because so much of a person’s life is lived in his head, necessarily independent from the critique and the observation of others, the reasons for his actions (if there are any) remain clear only to him. 

Reading the essay on the Kindle has its advantages; the first one being that it’s in English; the second one being the feature that shows you sections that have been popularly hilighted by others. I’ll just steal the only section in this particular essay that was thusly hilighted in order to quote it for you.  Obviously it is well appreciated.

“Man (in good earnest) is a marvellous vain, fickle, and unstable subject, and on whom it is very difficult to form any certain and uniform judgment.”

I suppose this goes for all the people who assume automatically that French people are snooty and elitist, because as for my own experience, I have only met nice and helpful people so far. There is Madame LeMoys who offered to show me around. There is Isabelle who kindly lets me stay in her house without asking for anything–she even makes me dinner! There is Amélie, an English teacher with whom I will be working, and who is going to organize my schedule so that I have three day weekends. There is Nathalie who gave me a new mattress to replace the lumpy one that was in Isabelle’s guest bedroom. And there are all the others who want to hear all about me and even want to show off their (limited) English, and who pay me wonderful compliments on my French even as I butcher it.

So far, it’s the bureacracy to watch out for. Who would have thought that pushing papers could be so annoying! 


9 thoughts on “First Days in France

  1. Mike says:

    Are you finding any significant mis-translations from the French to the English? Or does it feel like a waste of time comparing the English translation to the French original?

    • jamesrnelson says:

      I actually just discovered today that the French copy doesn’t have every essay, so there will be times when I’m completely dependent upon the English one. I haven’t found any mistranslations…

  2. Patrick says:

    Favorite boulangerie and charcuterie? As in there are more than one?! At least Charlottesville has more bookstores…

    …thought about it and multiple charcuteries is way better than multiple bookstores.

  3. Jacque says:

    Glad that so many people are being nice and helpful to you. As for who knew pushing papers could be so annoying? I could have told you that!

  4. Tyler says:

    I’ve learned more about bureaucracy than I ever imagined was possible. . . . .

  5. Allison says:

    Yeah, French people do bureaucracy for fun. So they can go, pffffff, and raise their palms to the sky, and roll their eyes.

  6. Beth Saboe says:

    Surely we can expect a wonderful essay on the fabulous French desserts! Indulge me, James!

    Saw Manny, Greg, Dan and Macho tonight – all at Bilbo Baggins. And yeah, (hangs head), I had dessert! Mango yucca fritters with ginger ice cream. 😉

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