With the rentrée the family falls back into its traditional roles. After ten weeks absence we are all slightly apprehensive about being back in the school playground. Last year, as novices, we had ignorance on our side: this year we know the drill, but are rusty after the summer break. Nevertheless, I always find an opportunity to make some faux-pas, and this week has been no exception!
Faux pas number one is to arrive at school a day early! Last year classes CP and CE2 were given the opportunity to turn up the eve before school started to look at the class lists and meet the teacher. Having briefly scanned the messages from school I note that there is another such event the evening before school starts. Despite their groans, I shuffle the “primaire” children into the car and we drive to town. It is of course a mistake, but I don’t know it yet. It dawns on me as I approach Angus’ class and there are no other parents other than me! Of course my children have moved up a year and I no longer have children in those classes but I had assumed it was for all primaire! In the event, Angus and I meet his new teacher who is delightful, and it is a good private opportunity to talk to her about her new english charge! It may be easy for the French, but I find that the pronunctiation of CE1 exceptionally difficult – (say errr un), and CM1 not much better (say emm un). By the end of last year I could rattle off CE2 (say err der) with all the finesse of a true french woman and I’m hoping for the same progress this year.
The following day we stand amongst the hundreds of other mothers, fathers and pupils and wait for the class lists to be called. It is fortunate to be a lovely sunny day as we congregate around the steps to the main entrance in the courtyard, and class by class the children are called and led away to their classrooms. Last year the anxiety was that our children would be tearful as they left us in this very public arena and that there would be some interesting looking kids in their classes. This year we hold our breath hoping that Phillipe, Auguste and Nicolas have been put together with Theo, and that Adrian, Victor and Caesar have made it in with Angus. The tension amongst the parents is palpable and there are sighs and grins and general hand-shaking amongst parents when the classes are eventually formed – oh and some sobbing children who have been separated from their friends. Now comes my opportunity for faux pas number two! When questioned over Angus’s class teacher, I have to hold up my hand that I am lousy at remembering names, and French names in particular, until another mother comes to my aid. It is Madame Barba. “Oh well” I say, (having not seen it written)” it will be easy to remember that one, I shall just think of Babar the elephant”. The conversation lurches to a halt and the group of mothers look at me slightly aghast, obviously ‘not done’ then to refer to your child’s maitresse as a large grey wrinkly animal with big ears – thank heavens she is refined, chic and petite!
The children safely installed, it is time for me to head to the depot! The previous night, in an attempt to mend the jammed sunroof on my car, my car door got left open, and when I attempt to start it the following morning the battery is flat! Consequently I head out in Harry’s car, a brand new Citroen courteous of his employer. I am a little anxious about its loading capacity and so I head for the depot office to talk to the manager, a jovial guy who enjoys ribbing me about the english performance in whatever international match has taken place over the weekend! Its all the more amusing to him as he knows I only have a limited number of adjectives and expletives to argue my corner with. Imagine his delight therefore, when I ask him to check the loading capacity for the new car, as today I am driving my husband’s “lemon”! As soon as I spot the glint in his eye, I know instantly that I have mispronounced Citroen for Citron. He makes a show of peering out of the window to check it out whilst I shrug nonchalently murmering that it’s the yellow one in the corner!
I am aware that far from being the best french speaker amongst myself and the kids, I am now sliding down the scale. Rory now looks anguished if I am speaking near him, and that he thinks my accent hopelessly British. I am holding onto one of my cycling friends comments that I have a cute English accent, but |I know that I have to do something about it and so attempt to improve fast by a total immersion into french tv and radio whenever i’m in the house.