Category Archives: Foreign Exchange Students

Day Twenty-Four: Pretty as You Please

My parents haven’t met Simone yet and Mom really wants to. She says she wants to try out her high school French.  I hope she isn’t serious.  Simone says she finds it funny when people try to converse with her in their bad French.  She make a waving motion in front of her face indicating their French stinks.  It took me a  bit to catch on to her sense of humor.  She doesn’t make outright jokes, instead she makes these little play on words.  She tells me, “My English “trips and falls down before the joke can run its way.”

When we met up at the mall for the movies I had no problem spotting Simone. It’s not that she is tall, it’s how she manages to stand out in crowd of people.  She is in this bubble of style.  She is so European.  There is something about how she wears her clothes.  She drapes her scarf, while I wrap mine around my neck.  Her earrings dance off her ear lobes, and my earlobes are naked and embarrassed to be found undressed.  Her colors complement boldly, and mine are blah, blah, blah.  She has an ensemble.  I have something on dug out of my laundry hamper.  You would think hanging out with her I would feel intimidated.  I actually feel inspired.

With her long  brown hair, the bluest of eyes, and winning smile I still wouldn’t say she is pretty. I first thought she was gorgeous, yet  now I think she isn’t pretty at all, instead she is alluring.  Strange word to use, I know.  She has a mystery about her that makes me want to discover more about who she is.  I’ve not been around many European people, so I don’t know if it’s because she is from France or if it’s because she is who she is. There is something about her that comes out and completes her, yet she is not totally finished. That sounds weird, I know. How can someone seem complete, but still have a bit hidden?   I don’t know how to explain it.  Maybe it’s because she is not gorgeous or even that pretty.  Her looks go deeper.

Pretty girls, in my opinion, are already done.  One look and their story is read,  already known. I know that sounds shallow, like I’m just saying this because I’m not pretty–au contraire–I’m picking up on Simone’s expressions already.  Pretty girls have this “My-face-gets-me-where-I-need-to-go-in-life look.”  They have the votes, the guys, the clothes, everything.  Except personality.  Did I really mean that?  Did I really lump them into the stereotypical Barbie mold?  Yup, I sure did.

Our school has a bunch of pretty girls.  I call them the “cookie cutter girls.“ They wear the same kind of hairstyle, same type of clothes, they sound the same, and act the same.  Nice they usually are not. I have known a total of two pretty girls who were nice.  They were better than nice–they were sweet.  They were cheerleaders, best friends, sisters even, and really, really nice.  They volunteered for clubs, tutored other students, and weren’t any bit stuck up.  Teachers liked them, most everyone liked them.  They weren’t in the loud popular senior crowd, that group of twelfth graders who are known by everybody, who seem to be getting in the school newspaper, or are getting awards, or are mentioned in conversations.  Instead they were they “you know, the blonde senior twins,“ and people would nod and say, “oh yeah, they are so sweet.“  They didn’t say, “right, those two gorgeous twin sisters with the flawless complexion and naturally blonde hair, who get good grades, stay out of trouble, and are incredibly nice.“ Maybe people thought they were too good to be true.  How can anyone be pretty and nice?  Maybe because they were seniors when I was a freshmen I lived in a delusional void.  I thought they would be the most popular girls on the campus, if not the world.  Surprisingly, I don’t think they got voted as prom queen or anything big like that. Maybe because they were twins it was hard to tell who was who, and people didn’t want to favor one over the other.  So, two pretty girls over a thousand I’ve seen or been around.  I rest my case.

Pretty.  What is pretty?  There is the fashion magazine definition, the Hollywood style, the popular girl version.  I prefer the Jane Austen style.  Her heroines seem to win the male characters over with their sass more than the bat of their eyelash.  Maybe Jane was plain.  She would know what it was all about then.

At the mall Simone and I eat and discuss whether to see the newest apocalypse film or one of the new animation flicks.  I don’t understand the trend of films.  In the last couple of years we either have gloom-and-doom-the-world-is-ending movies or the here-is-yet-another-superhero movie.  We need to figure out whether to spend ninety or so minutes watching how the world might end, or if we should relax and let our minds coast and simply watch one of the new Pixar films.  Cartoon laughs or CGI tragedy?  We decide tragedy would have less kids.  Simone comments, “I like little kids, if I am relative to them.”  I know what she means.  I can’t stand to be in a store and hear some kid screaming and the parent is totally oblivious.  Maybe being an only has something to do with it.  I have low kid tolerance.  I like Timmy because he isn’t a whiner.

image: fanpop.com

As we waited in line for our tickets I told her while she is getting to know America pretty well, the only ideas I have about the French are what I have absorbed from watching Sabrina. I’ve watched both versions at least fifty times. Simone suggested we watch them back to back.  “We stuff ourselves on the movie.”  I told her it sounded like we would be eating a meal instead of watching a couple of old movies.

“We enjoy all of life.  We work.  We play.  We love.  It is all so nice.  We embrace all of life.  Americans enjoy life too.  It is different though.  For the French we take a nice, long stroll, talking and walking arm and arm.  We are not in a hurry.  Americans are different.  They take a fast run with music in their ears.”  She emphasized this with plugging her ears with buds.  “America lives very fast.  It’s better to take a nice, long stroll.”

I can see her point. We microwave our food, race down freeways, dash around on errands, and speed dial our phone numbers.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  I like the idea of living life more slowly.

The movie turns out predictable.  The family figures out how to stay together and get over their petty pre-disaster differences, and the one brave, most likable scientist figures out how to save the planet, even though more than half the world’s population is destroyed and the major architecture of the world is totally blown to bits and pieces.  It rates a see again when it comes out on DVD.

Simone’s host mother picks us up since she had gone shopping and it wasn’t a problem or out of her way to take me home.  “It gets dark, really dark, much too fast these days.  Besides, it’s really getting cold, don’t you think so?” she throws out, as she backs the car out of the mall parking lot. She sounds like a worrier to me.  I wonder what it must be like to be responsible for someone else’s kid.  Who takes on the responsibility for having a teenager live with you for almost a whole year, someone who is a)foreign b)a stranger and c)a person who might make your life absolutely miserable for nine months.  I think Simone must be fairly easy to live with.  Simone shivers in the car and we both laugh.

“I think it too cold.  It should snow soon, yes?”

We don’t always get snow, but the air has that sharp tang to it, that pinch to the air that hints of snow.  We’ve lived in the area for almost three years.  Most of the places we have lived in have some kind of winter.  Mostly rain.  Dad isn’t too keen on living where there is a lot of snow.  He hates shoveling, which is another reason we live in apartments.

“Let the manager do it.  If we owned a home I’d have to lift that shovel, toss that snow,” he tried in a southern accent.  Fine.  I like the snow.  The freshly fallen type that veils the trees, frosts the ground, lightens the overall landscape.  That Christmas card type of snow.  I don’t like snow when it’s been around too long.  It becomes a tired-looking grey, that ashy worn out snow of  hanging around too long.  I think it should snow after Thanksgiving and be all done by February.  Spring should be all ready to go by March 1st.

Some of the places we’ve lived in are a bit like that.  Sometimes it doesn’t snow at all.  Last year a hint of snow came and went.  I hear that this area doesn’t have too many white Christmases.  That bit of information makes me want the snow all that much more.  Simone says she hopes for snow as well.  “I want to know what American winter is like.”

She waves good-bye at the curb and drives off with her host mother in their common-around-here Subaru.  Mom drives her Alero and Dad has a Jeep.  He likes to go roughing it and I’ve gone with him a few times.  His Jeep is older, and has seen its days of roughing it in the woods.  Dad likes to get away and camp now and then. I remember as a little kid we would go backpacking and hiking quite a bit.  Now, I’ll only go if it’s warm out.  Mom rarely goes at all.  Her idea of roughing it these days is not having a microwave and mini-frig in the motel room. I guess the incident of finding bugs in her sleeping bag put her off on camping out.

I was about ten when we stopped going hiking and spending so much of our weekend time in the woods.  It was about the time my parents got serious about their careers.  Dad’s writing began to become more steady.  His assignments came from bigger magazines and paid better too.  Mom discovered the world of cataloging blurbing, as she calls it, and together they entered the semi-consistent life of freelance writing.  Since I’ve grown up with the feast and famine lifestyle we live I don’t think much of it.  It’s been this year though, as I listen more to what other kids’ families are all about that I realize my parents are a little different.  We don’t have a lot of flashy stuff that measures typical success.  No boats moored at the marina, the cars my parents drive are older, I doubt I will get to have my own car to drive,  no enviable vacations, no i-Phones, and it’s okay.  I would even say we are content.  No wonder I don’t fit it in so well at school.

Day Twenty-One: America a la mode

Simone says she likes our mall cinemaplex.  “It’s all so much bigger in America.  You can choose from not one movies.  You have six movies to choose.”

The couple of times I have been out with Simone I see America through her eyes. She makes me look at things that I don’t normally think about, because, well, I guess I’m used to them.  For instance, parking lots. Simone said in France you can park two normal sized cars where only one Escalade can fit.  “So much space for parking cars,“ she shakes her head in amazement.

She then mentions our streets.  “USA streets are wide and very straight.  They are made for (and I had to help her out on this word, it took a little guessing) convenience, like everything is made in the States.“  She is also amazed at our late store hours.  She said she knows she will be spoiled going home. “In my town, I will want to go to a store at night and it will be closed.  Not here.  Everything is on all night.  America and Americans are always awake.“  She likes a lot about the States, especially our free water when going to a restaurant.  “We must pay for our water.“ She laughs, “Our water must be very good then to pay for privilege of drinking it.“

Another thing she talks about always makes me laugh, “America is very preoccupied with its body odors.  The French are not so concerned.”  When I think about the three aisles of shampoos, deodorants, mouthwashes, etc. most stores have, I guess she has a point.

For someone not concerned about body odors, per se, Simone smells nice, in that she carries a nice fragrance about her.  I don’t wear perfume, mostly because I think of old ladies overdoing the Chanel whenever they pass by me in stores.  Somehow Simone wears a scent that reminds me of the outdoors after a spring rain.  That makes her sound like an air freshener, which is not very complimentary.  She does remind me of spring. She is happy–make that cheery, like that glimpse of sun behind the grey skies of March. She says she tries to live her life like the springs of Paris, “A lightness, a gladness that winter is past and the flowers soon bloom.”

I’d love to ask more about her culture–yet somethings I’d be way to embarrassed to ask. Like, I heard European women don’t shave.  How do you ask someone that?  I’ll pass, but I am curious.  Shaving doesn’t really come up in our conversations.  The few times we’ve gone out together she is priming me for more about our culture. She asks questions about everything and it makes me have to think about what it is like to live in the United States. Actually,  I’ve learned more about America through a French foreign exchange student’s eyes than all my fifteen years of living here.

Simone says she wants me to come to France so she can see her country through my eyes.  I like the idea of doing that.  I doubt it will happen.  Maybe if Mom decides to cover French fashions or Dad does an article on traveling through Europe on twenty-five dollars a day would we actually go.  Fly over by myself?  Not happening.  Cost, nervous about airports, connections, customs, having to talk to people I don’t know, it would be a real comfort zone squeeze.  Europe. It sounds so amazing the way Simone describes it. She tells me to come over as an exchange student.  Oh, sure. My French knowledge would fit in thimble.  Even Simone laughs at my miserable pronounciation attempts at the words she tries to teach me.

“I try not to laugh at you.  I love the sounds of my languaage you try to make. You are my best American friend.”

You know what? Simone is becoming my best American friend as well.

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Day Seventeen: Teach Sweeps and Football Fever

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - ...

Classroom with students and teachers – NARA – 285702 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The school is on this low high because this is the only full week of school this month.  After a four-day weekend students are moving around like slugs strapped down with salted backpacks, yet have outbreaks of silliness. No one is focusing on learning anything. Teachers are not much livelier having finished the posting of quarter grades and then have immediately go into to splitting their week with two nights of parent/teacher conferences.  It’s no wonder my teachers are showing movies. By showing movies, at least if students sleep it’s done with the lights off–less evidence of zoning out and maybe that lessens the guilt of not keeping students engaged. Some teachers require we write down facts learned while watching the movie and then turn these in.  A compromise I guess in case an admin member walks in and conducts a “teach sweep.“

Our school has periodic walk-throughs, or “teach sweeps” which I overheard two teachers call them.  This is where two or three of the administrators come in, sit down for ten minutes, watch the students, watch the teacher, and scribble away on their notepads.  Students call them “the posse.”  Some of my teachers get a little flustered when the posse arrives.  Others, you can tell, don’t give a flip and carry on doing their usual.

Some of the students get nervous  when an admin pops into the room.  When two or more admins arrive, a sense of drama unfolds, like they are on a search and destroy mission.  No matter how unobtrusive they attempt to be there is no way twenty-seven students are going to ignore being scrutinized.

This week there are few admin sightings in classrooms.  They are no doubt rooted in their beehive of offices.  Why?  Football.  Our football team won their second playoff game and are on their way to state championship.  Any remaining admin are hiding away in their offices posing with paperwork while listening to updates of how the football team is doing. I don’t blame them. After all, we haven’t made it to state for three years.  We haven’t won a state game for ten.  Going to state calls for suspended protocol, right? Especially if it’s football. *slight sarcasm insert*  Here’s my point: Our boys and girls soccer teams both won state.  Did the school shut down?  Nope.  Our cross country team went to state and so did our girls volleyball team.  Did we claim a minimum day so people could flock to see them?  Not even.  But football reigns. In our school, through the state, across the country.

Maybe if my dad had been more interested in football I would be more interested.  Our family life is so fragmented with him coming and going on writing assignments that he doesn’t have much time to watch sports. Therefore, sports I care not much or a whit for.  All around me though, people are passionate.

All week I hear murmurings of excitement. “Are you going?”  “I’m cutting last period to get there earlier.”  “I bet we watch movies in all our classes on Friday.”  Am I the only one who will stay behind in our fair town while all others travel three hours away to watch our Eagles fly to victory? I am wise enough to keep my opinions to myself.

Friday is essentially a half day.  There are so many students going down to the state game, it’s ridiculous for teachers to take attendance, let alone attempt any type of teaching.  The amount of make-up work to be done would justify an after-school activities bus.  Let’s see, there are about 30-40 guys on the varsity football team, and about four of the teachers on the staff are coaches.  Then there is the pep band, another 25-30.  Don’t forget about the 12 member squad of cheerleaders who go to encourage our fans and players and the 25 member dance team who will entertain at half-time. Maybe they should gather the remaining students in the gym for one good attempt at education consolidation.  I don’t dare mention my lack of football interest.  To anyone. I could pretend to care.  Maybe.

There is a pep bus that leaves right after school, and if traffic cooperates the bus will arrive at the Riley Memorial Dome with forty-five minutes to spare until kickoff.  I, for reasons I don’t understand, start this inner dilemma within myself.

Me: This will probably be the only state game I will have while in school.
Me Two: Since when do you care about football.
Me: It wouldn’t hurt to care just a smidge about the school, would it?
Me Two: YOU want to sit on a bus for three hours with noise and teenage nonsense?  Why?
Me: Good point.  I’d be like a fish on a bicycle.

I continue to dwell on going despite the good points I’ve made. I should go because going to a state game would be a memory I might treasure some day. Another reason I’m considering going is that I don’t know how long I will be in this school.  Every since Dad wrote that bridge article about the picturesque town of  Calder, I’ve noticed  Mom Googling information on it.  She better be checking out vacation rates instead of housing prices.

Three hours on a bus is a lonely time when you don’t really have anyone to hang out with.  Maybe I could convince Simone  in experiencing the event with me.

“What you call football is not,“ she explained to me at lunch, after turning me down. “What you call soccer is football. The bump crash game of Americans,“ she demonstrated with the smacking together of her hands, “does not make sense. You come to watch a soccer game with me.  The boys in their shorts all running,“ she sighs. “Yes, that is nice to watch.“ She does have a point there.   Football uniforms don’t do much for me either. Okay, so I’m good with staying

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home doing my usual.

It’s weird that this is the only full week of school for this month.  Between school being off because of quarter ending, school being off because of parent/teacher conferences and next week being Thanksgiving week, and with a half day on Wednesday with school being closed Thursday and Friday, it’s amazing they bothered with even unlocking the front doors.  I guess somewhere in there they all figured we will get some edukashun.

 

Day Fourteen: No Plot. No Problem. (In Theory)

English: Eiffel Tower as seen from rue de Mont...

English: Eiffel Tower as seen from rue de Monttessuy in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fear of accomplishment settles over me like a cozy quilt, and I contemplate whether or not I should snuggle under it.  Whatever would I do with future excuses if I actually succeed at writing this NaNo thing?  But here’s the deal instead of using my four day weekend to actually getting some real writing done I am getting all self-reflective. Here I am, at the halfway point and I decide to analyze my results. I have decided writing a 50,000 word novel isn’t working.  I think my real mistake is I took time out to reread what I’ve written so far.

NaNoWriMo pep talks assure us novel contenders that “No plot? No problem.” Then again if there isn’t a plot, isn’t that a problem?  Mrs. X talks about how all novels have to have a plot. No plot is actually a problem. In the “novel” I’m supposed to be writing I only talk about writing a novel, mostly I blather on about me.  I know what I am really doing: I am deflecting, procrastinating, and avoiding.  I didn’t get inspired by Googling, I got sidetracked.  I did homework.  I reread Pride and Prejudice.  I rewatched Lost in Austen. I cleaned under my bed.  I did most anything that involved not working on this.  I wallowed in aggravation and regret.

I’m sure this would have been easier had I started out writing a real story.  The kind that has a true hero or more likely a heroine, because I have no clue what a guy thinks about.  This story I should write about would have all that a true novel is supposed to have.  I’m learning this stuff in my literature unit of English.  A story should have the following:

  • plot–loosely connected events
  • characters–one or more people, objects, animals, or even ideas
  • setting–a time or place
  • point of view–who is telling the story (and this goes into all sorts of directions)
  • conflict–the problem
  • theme– the underlying message of the author.

After rereading what I have written so far, I have come up with the following:

  • Plot: I definitely have some definitely loosely connected events
  • Characters: if I’m the protagonist, who is my antagonist?  Procrastination? Aah, an abstract antagonist. Mrs. X would be pleased at that literary epiphany.
  • Setting: there is a time and place for everything
  • Conflict: person vs. person; person vs. society?
  • Theme: now there is the stumper–what is my underlying message?  That writing 50,000 words is good therapy for someone who never completes anything?  How about, “The world is not really made up of girls who have vampires for boyfriends, or few girls have adventures once donning a pair of previously worn jeans.”  Most girls (and I figure I am most girls) live uninteresting lives filled with ups and mostly downs.

There is no magic, huge paradigm shifts, or neat endings as most stories make us believe—life just goes on day after day.  This I learned is “verisimilitude,” what is known as realism.  My life is pretty real.  Verisimilitude.  That word has such an amazing sound to it. Verra-Si-Milli-Tude.  That’s the dictionary pronunciation. I tend to say: vera-sim-all-ill-tude.  Each syllable has its own meaning.

            Vera: a name I wouldn’t mind having.  It’s solid sounding, yet has possibilities because it sounds like “very.”  She has very distinctive eyes.  She has a very appealing personality.  She has a very good vocabulary. 

            Sim: I think of those video games where you can make life happen like becoming an ant, which was my favorite version when I was a kid.

            All: it’s all about including those details that make it all seem real.  You can drop a house on a witch and go with that, but it would be difficult to believe a girl from Kansas  could take out the witch with Ninja skills.  That would not be believable.

            Ill: which also means “sick” and that can be taken in two ways.  The first “sick” is that yucky feeling that comes just before coming down with the flu.  It happened recently; I decided it wasn’t worth writing about.  The second “sick” is what the boys mostly say, “Whoa, dude, that was a sick video on YouTube.  The guy was like doing the rail and caught the front lip of his board and nailed it.”  That sick means amazing, as near as I can figure.  “Ill” could also be “I will” as in the contraction, and in writing it’s all about the ‘I” as in “I am in it and I want to believe it.”  My teacher, the undisputed Madame X, says, “Reading is believing.  The author should be able to make the reader believe this could be happening, and the author is doing his or her best writing if he or she can make you want to have the story happening to you.”  This story is happening to me, whether or not I want to live it, so Mrs. X what would you say to that?

Last but not least is Tude: got tude?  Most teens, according to adults who do those research finding things, say we have attitudes.  Well, who wouldn’t when everything is run by adults who have started wars, shrunk the polar ice caps, upped inflation, shut down big businesses, and decided soft drinks can no longer be sold in schools because it leads to obesity, but build a Starbucks on every corner of America?  As if caffeine is the most healthy ingredient in the world to stuff in a body.  Come on, attitude?  It’s called “defensive coping.”  Teens are frustrated.  We can’t wait to run the world.  But wait, do we really want to inherit the mess adults have made of it?  Actually, I don’t think we have much choice.

So for now we will live in our own i-Tuned, X-Boxed, FaceBooked lives and wait and hope it won’t be as bad as it is looking.

Pardon the momentary rant.

I think I have a story forming, yet I don’t know if I can pull it off.  I’m going to mull it over before committing to writing it down.  That’s right, I said commit.  I think I am back in business.  Time to move on to more pleasant thoughts than trying to grab an idea and coax it behaving into something with substance.

My pleasant thought right now is how I actually went to and enjoyed Simone’s French party.  Here is how it went: I find room 102 and there is a party going on.  I don’t do French and I am not taking any kind of foreign language at present.  It is much to my counselor’s horror that I have decided I am not interested conjugating verbs in some language of some country I will never visit.  What is the point of taking a foreign language?  Answer for 100 points: To get into college.  Hasn’t anyone noticed that English is the world language? Yeah, I know that sounds ignorant and elitist.  But there are little kids in Germany, France, Spain who are at this moment taking English.  Most of them will end up speaking it better than USA natives.  I wouldn’t want to try to learn our language.  We have the strangest shifts, rules, and reasons for putting sounds together to complete a thought.  Punctuation is a whole nother matter.

When I walked into room 102 I felt I had fallen into Alice’s rabbit hole. A French rabbit hole.  French music, that tune from Sabrina, was playing.  The one used in Ratatouille.  Posters of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Boulevard, bistro scenes, and a movie poster of Julie and Julia hung on the walls.  The French colors of red, blue, and white filled up the room in the form of crepe paper streamers from the ceiling, along with paper tablecloths on pushed together classroom tables.  It was manufeek.  Yeah.

“You have come!” Simone had grabbed me by the elbow.  “I am so glad.  You are my guest.  Here is your name tag.  Here we become a new person.  Choose a new name.  See I am Giselle, because she cannot be here in America, but today she is.  What name will you be?”

Any name?  I can transform for a day into any name I choose?  That is loaning out the fairy godmother wand in a dangerous way.  My hand reaches for the black Sharpie and it writes “Vera” while my brain is going “Stop, Stop that’s not what I wanted to write.”  Too late it’s done.  I’m Vera for at least an hour.  No everlasting damage should be done.

“Good.  Come, Vera,” Giselle/Simone pulls on my arm.  Are all French people so effervescent?  I thought they are supposed to be reserved, almost aloof.  I suppose all Americans are perceived as overweight and loud.  Overweight in my case, loud not so much. “I present Vera,” this said to Mme. S.  The introduction being said in French I’m pretty sure I was introduced.  I got the Vera part is all.

“Pleased you could come.  Are you thinking of taking French?  Or are you like so many other students and are taking Spanish?” the French teacher asks me.

“No, I’m not signed up for any language right now.  We only need to take two years, right?” She nods affirmatively to my question.  I plunge on.   “I think I will be better able to focus as a junior and senior.”

“That is a wise consideration.  I have these ninth graders who can’t sit still long enough to comprehend the lesson and then they wonder why they fail my class.  French is a beautiful language and should be savored.  Squirmy freshmen are not ready to savor.  I will look for you next year, Vera.”

I awkwardly smile in reply.  If I were to take a foreign language I was thinking Spanish would be easier.  I hear French is pretty tough.  It is prettier sounding though.  I can’t figure how Mme. S sounds French even though she has such an American sounding name.  Shouldn’t a French teacher have something more French sounding, like Cousteau? Simone tells me later that Mme. S’s maiden name is Broussard. A long time ago she was engaged to an American foreign exchange student who came to Paris to study abroad for one of his college years.

“It was spring in Paris.  She is on an outing, and he is taking pictures and they bump,” Simone crashes her hands together, eyes widening in the retelling.  “They become in love,” Simone says. “I would like to fall in love in Paris.  So nice.”  She continued the story saying it did not have a happy ending.  They were to fly back to America and meet his parents, and he was killed riding his motorcycle two days before they were to fly out. The paved streets of Paris can be tricky, especially after a rain, Simone told me.

Mme. S, heartbroken, leaves France and comes to America anyway.  She studies and gets her teaching credential and changed her name to his “because she never look at anyone anymore.  Her heart die with her American college boy.”  Simone thought that tragic and romantic.  That would make a good story.  I would watch that one as a movie.  I was amazed her teacher told Simone something so personal.  Simone said because she is French, Mme. S invites her over to her house so she can converse more freely in her home language.  They have become friends outside of the classroom.

That’s an interesting thought.  Friends with a teacher?  Would I really want to get to know any of my teachers beyond the classroom?  I run through my schedule and place a big red “don’t think so” next to each one.  I then think about the other teachers on the staff, and the only one who intrigues me is Ms. L, the journalism teacher.  She wears stylish clothes and has such a creative energy about her.  She’s my mom’s age, I think.  I can’t see being friends with someone that much older.  Mom and I sometimes do things together but to hang out with someone ten years, twenty years, thirty years older seems more than strange.

I want to ask Simone what she and Mme. S talk about but don’t.  Instead I nod, saying something like, “It must be nice to talk in your own language with someone else.”  Simone said not talking French was like being locked behind a door.

“I knock, like this,“ she knocks on a desk, and pauses. “I wait. No one come. I knock again. And someone open door and I peek out,“ she puts her hands in front of her face and then removes them. “See, you open door, and now I talk. But sometime I still sad.  On my side of door all is French.  Your side of door is English.  It is hard sometime.  Today is good day.  Today I talk both.”  I need to learn French so I can really talk to Simone someday.

The French Club party consists of eating all kinds of student-prepared foods and treats.  There are about a dozen students in French club.  Most students at our school take Spanish.  There are three Spanish teachers and only one French teacher and a part-time German teacher. Hmm, what does that really say?  I got the idea that the smarter kids take French.  I see a few members of the Honor Society, along with student council members mingling.  What I want to know is if French makes you smart or if you have to be smart to take French?  “You’re known by the company you keep,” is one of Gran’s sayings.  I will give this French some consideration when it comes to signing up for classes in the spring.

After an hour of sampling French food and watching a clip of Ratatouille, the party ends.  I stay and help clean up and then say good-bye to Simone.

“You are the first American I like to know well.  We will meet again, not just at lunch in the library.  Okay?”  I nod.  Why not?  It’s not like my life is so full, and Simone is everything I am not: tall, poised, outgoing, slender, and French.  “By the company you keep.”  Okay, Gran I hear you, I hear you.

Day Twelve: Speaking of French

Monday, Monday da da da da da da.  I’ve got an oldie tune that I heard off the classic rock station stuck in my head.  I get tired of my i-Tune playlist, and be it laziness or procrastination, I haven’t loaded new music in ages.  It’s much easier to punch on an internet radio station while working on school stuff.  I listen to almost everything.  Okay, I admit country western and opera are not on my list.  I do like the classic rock station and jazz the best.  One time I clicked on a jazz station and couldn’t figure out why they kept singing in French.  About three songs in I realized the station music carried mainly French music because it was a French station.  I had no idea internet radio could pick up other countries.

Speaking of French, the other day I was doing my usual avoid-the-cafeteria-at-lunch-by-hiding-out-in-the-library  routine and Simone comes in.  She sits next to me and radiates a smile.  Can a person smile with her whole body?

“Hallo,” she says.  “Things going good for you?”

“Hi,” I return.  “Yeah, things are going pretty well.”  That awkward pause begins to grow.  That pause where there isn’t a lot to say because there isn’t much to say, and although you would like to say something, nothing really comes to mind, but you say something, anything to break the awkward pause.

“How was your weeken-“ we say together and laugh.

“You first,” Simone points to me.

“Okay.  I went to a concert with my mother.  Do you know reggae music?  You know Bob Marley and the Wailers?”  Simone nods.  “It was lot like that kind of music.”

Simone’s eyes widen. “Your mama take you to music concert?  I think that is so incredible.  My mama would never do such a thing.  I am so jealous.”

I guess a date with your mom would be considered strange at best, but to be jealous?  It makes me wonder what Simone’s mom is like.  I don’t like to get too personal with people, so I don’t ask.

“Did you get the email thing worked out?”

She nods enthusiastically, “Oui, oh yes.  You such a help. My counselor talk to librarian and it’s all okay.  I can talk to my family almost everyday now.  I email at lunches and after school.  My counselor say not to do so at class time.  It is hard not to.  I miss my family so much.”

I have never really been away from my family.  I’ve never been to camp, or excursions with groups of friends, since the opportunity has never come up.  I’ve stayed at Gran’s but that’s still considered family.  What would it be like to be a continent and an ocean away from my parents?

“Who is in your family?  I mean, do you have brothers and sisters?”

“Oh yes.  I have Giselle, she is five.  She is my sister from another father.  My papa and mama are no longer together and my mama remarry six years ago and now I have a little sister.  I miss her more than my mama some days.  That is not nice of me, is it?” she laughs.

“I don’t know.  I guess it happens, I mean, liking someone more than others in your family.  I guess I like my dad a lot more.  At least he’s gone more than my mom and so I miss him because he’s not around.”

Having actually said more than I usually say about my feelings and my family to anyone I quickly slammed the door closed to my uncomfort zone. “I’ve got to finish catching up on some homework. I get up and gather my stuff.  I must sound rude and unfriendly.  Simone doesn’t take my comment like that at all.

“Yes,” she nods. “I should too.  I will email, then work too.  Thank you again for helping me.  You are so nice.  Will you come with me to French Club sometime?  This week is French week and Tuesday we have a feast after school. We can bring a guest, and I would like to bring you.”

What do I say to that?  I don’t know French.  I don’t know Simone beyond hello pleasantries and I am afraid they will serve something creepy like escargot which I know is dressed up snails.  I say, “Sure.”  My brain and mouth don’t often agree.  My brain lost out on this one.

“Oh good!” Simone squeezes my arm.  “Come to Mme. S’s room after school.  It will be fun.”

Maybe I have a dentist appointment I forgot about tomorrow.