Monday 4 January 2016

Me Talk Pretty One Day

I've been meaning to read Me Talk Pretty One Day for the longest time. I understood it to be tales of David Sedaris moving to Paris and learning French. And indeed some of it is, but by no means is that what the book is mostly about, despite the blackboard cover and the Fleur de Lys decorating the back cover.

The first section, titled One, is about David's childhood in a number of Eastern States in America, and some of his time as a young man. They are an odd collection of stories perhaps, entertaining on the whole of course, but I kept waiting for Paris to appear. There was no Paris. But there was family pet stories, tales of the horror at being pulled out of class for speech therapy for a lisp,  non-flushing poos, jobs as a furniture removals and a conceptual artist, and more drug references than I expected.

Speed eliminates all doubt. Am I smart enough? Will people like me? Do I really look all right in this plastic jump suit? These are questions for insecure potheads. A speed enthusiast knows that everything he or she says or does is brilliant. The upswing is that, having eliminated the need for both eating and sleeping, you have a full twenty-four hours a day to spread your charm and talent. 

Sadly there is no mention of Paris whatsoever in the entire first section, although I was waiting for it the whole time. Finally though in the second section we got there! YAY.

But do we really need this?

David meets his future partner Hugh. Hugh has spent six years living in France and has a house in Normandy. He spends his summers in Normandy "visiting friends and working on the house." Which certainly had me wishing that the movement of tectonic plates had landed Australia somewhat closer to France. David and Hugh make their summer visits for a number of years, and David finds it very hard to learn any language on these fleeting visits. He practices ten new words a day.

sea monster
witch doctor
By the end of the month, I'd managed to retain three hundred nouns, none of which proved to be the least bit useful. 

An odd approach perhaps. The next summer visit was six weeks, and he added another 420 words. On his fifth trip to France he decides to limit himself to words and phrases that people actually use.

Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is them the thoughts of cows?" 

David begins to know as we all do that learning a language as an adult is difficult. It's hard work.

I'd hoped the language might come on it's own, the way it comes to babies, but people don't talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don't hypnotise you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handy out little treats when you finally say "potty" or "wawa". It got to the point where I'd see a baby in the bakery or grocery store, and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie in a French crib and start from scratch, learning the language from the ground floor up.

Then David and Hugh decide to move to Paris for "a year or two" because of construction next door to their New York apartment! Oh, if only that was all it took... David enrols in a French language school with a rather obnoxious French teacher. Fear takes over.

My fear and discomfort crept beyond the borders of the classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards. Stopping for a coffee, asking directions, depositing money in my bank account: these things were out of the question, as they involved having to speak. Before beginning school there'd been no shutting me up, but now I was convinced that everything I said was wrong. When the phone rang, I ignored it. If someone asked me a question, I pretended to be deaf. I knew my fear was getting the best of me when I started wondering why they don't sell cuts of meat in vending machines. 

I felt very much like that on my last trip to France in 2014. Perhaps it is a sign of progress then? But I was the most uncomfortable speaking French that I had ever been, even though I generally made myself understood. I can only hope for David's next breakthrough when he started to understand every word that someone was saying.

Understanding doesn't mean that you can suddenly speak. Far from it. It's a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive. The teacher continued her diatribe and I settled back, bathing in the subtle beauty of each new curse and insult. 

David seems to spend all of his time in Paris watching old American movies, which I find particularly bizarre.

I've been here for more than a year, and while I haven't seen the Louvre or the Pantheon, I have seen The Alamo and The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Really? No, really? Whilst I get that he can rejoice at seeing old movies on the big screen, I can't at all understand living in Paris and going to 6 or 7 old American movies a week. I was rather disappointed that there were no French phrases slipped quietly in to these stories. Indeed they were strenuously avoided.

Since moving to Paris my most often used phrase is "One place, please." That's what one says at the box office when ordering a ticket, and I say it quite well. 

Surely readers who don't speak French could understand simple phrases when they're explained within the text? I've never been to the movies in France, but I might need that phrase one day..

I'm looking forward to seeing David Sedaris in a few weeks as part of his Australian tour. I will be delighted if there are some Parisian tales, but won't be expecting too many.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

French Bingo 2016


Brona said...

I've been meaning to read a Sedaris for ages. Last time he was here, I promised myself to read one so I could attend his next talk....but now it looks like I will have to wait a little longer *sigh!
Great review Louise

Paulita said...

Louise, Even your snippets of David Sedaris seduced me. I've been a Sedaris fan for more than 20 years now, even before he decided to move to France. As for the movies, he's just quirky guy. He would never want to do the things that tourists do, so he doesn't go to museums in Paris. I hope you enjoy his reading. I've never been disappointed.
Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Unknown said...

this is the first book I read by Sedaris, love it! one of my favorite by him. Hilarious