The Eyes of Irmgaard

Question:  What do four Americans, a Taiwanese manicurist, an Aussie comedienne, a Tanzanian priest, a Mexican housewife, and an unfortunately named Austrian woman known as “Irmgaard” have in common?

Answer: Not much.

There we were, though, on the first day of language school.  Last week I was in Paris attending classes at the Alliance Francaise.  I began this journey last summer when I decided I needed a challenge, and I settled on learning French.

I was leading a tour group through England and France, and I was traveling with a French teacher who is a friend of mine.  One night after dinner, we went for a walk, and I told her about my previous/failed attempts at learning another language.  I took Spanish and Latin in school, today I can only remember one phrase in each.  I can say, “He/She/It is no good” in Spanish, which I’ve found to be helpful in any number of situations, and I can also sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” in Latin which I pretty much never have the opportunity to use.  A few years ago I took a stab at German, and that went nowhere.

The French teacher and I decided to sit at a café and have a drink and we started talking about my attempts at language in the past, over the course of the night, she convinced me to give it another go – and of course she thought French would be the perfect language for me.  I don’t know if it was her speech or the drink or the fact we were in Paris, or maybe all of the above, but I it sounded like a path I needed to head down.  She pointed me in the direction of a local tutor affiliated with the Alliance Francaise, and the rest is history.

Nine months later I was in Paris, sitting in a small classroom surrounded by the strangest collection of people.  The Americans were an odd lot, and, yes, I’m considering myself as the oddest of the lot.  There was me, someone who is still in the process of growing up (I have three different jobs, so…).  Then there was the middle aged woman from Texas who was in France to visit a friend’s daughter, and wanted something to occupy her time.  The engineer from California had decided to chuck it all start over with a year in France.  Then there was the jazz musician from Indiana- come-NYC who had been in Paris for a year, and had serious issues with getting to school on time.  The Australian was a young woman who wanted to get out of Australia, and France, to her, was as good of a place as any.  The Mexican housewife was married to a businessman assigned to the Paris office, and the priest from Tanzania was headed out for missionary work in northern Africa.  As for the Taiwanese manicurist, I was never really sure what her end game was.  She spoke no English, or French.  Maybe she was like me, just looking for something out of the ordinary to do.

The icing on the cake, though, was Irmgaard.  Irmgaard clearly didn’t like me.  She was a middle-aged woman with a shaggy bob of blond hair.  She was in management for a major cosmetics company and was there to learn French in order to read documents coming out of the Paris office, when she was back home in Austria.  In another life she was a model or at least she could have been.  Her figure was waif-like and she dressed in a certain hipster/hobo chic style that simultaneously presented the image that she didn’t care about style, and yet was consumed by it.  She was attractive, but the skin on her face was a bit too firm, and her lips were suspiciously puckered.  All of this was hidden under her perfectly messy hair and glasses that were slightly too big to fit her face, yet set on her nose  in an oh-so-fashionable manner.

They were liars, each and every one of them.  We were in the class designated “A1.”  We were the beginners, the babies of French language, or so we were supposed to be.  On the first day we started with basic introductions.  As we worked our way through the formalities, the instructor wrote a basic script on the board, and we worked our way through.


Je me present?

Je m’appelle Brad.

Then the class was instructed to stand up, and we walked around meetin’ and greetin’ with each other.  Bonjours and ce vas were flying and I was starting to negotiate my way through it all, when suddenly people started going “off script.”  They started asking me how to spell my last name, or asking me other questions – questions that were most certainly NOT on the board.  I had no idea what they were saying, and I became flustered and nervous.  I thought I had missed something and I panicked.  My heart raced and my palms became sweaty.

When it was all over we took a break and everyone filed down to the cafeteria to buy a coffee and croissant.  I made small talk with a few of my classmates (i.e. the treacherous lot) and learned that all of them had some previous level of experience with French language.  Granted, I had a few months of classes under my belt, but these folks had taken classes for years already, and most were only there to improve, or “brush up” those skills.  The had not signed up for the more appropriate “higher” class out of fear of looking foolish, and as a result turned me into the class dunce – the only person that was in the appropriate class.  Sheesh!

As the next couple of days passed I tried my best to ignore their frustrated sighs and eye rolls when it was my turn to say a word or, God forbid, attempt to calculate the verbal mathematics necessary for counting above 60.  Irmgaard was the mean girl of the class.  I could never tell if it was her Germanic ways or her displeasure with having to share a class with the likes of me, but she was constantly giving me the stink eye.  Maybe though,  after the nips and tucks, that was just her permanent likeness.

After four days, my time in the school came to an end, and it was time for me to move on, and to start my return to the real world.  I’m certainly not a fluent French speaker because of the few days in class, but I think I did get something out of, maybe more than anyone else in the class.  Still, though, it did give me something to reflect on.  I am a teacher, and I’m far more aware of when I’m looking at someone with the eyes of Irmgaard.  I’ve been on the receiving end of it now, and I know how it feels.


Categories: Europe, My View of Things, Stories, Thoughts


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One Comment on “The Eyes of Irmgaard”

  1. April 9, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Reblogged this on parthibtech11.

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