Friday, May 04, 2007

A microcosm of the French-English relations

A couple of days ago, in my college there arrived a number of French exchange students whose lack of understanding of even basic English was comically revealed in the face of the fact that when a certain ‘Bonjour’ was lightly said to them, they were most benevolently, with a hint of an apologetic smile, nodding in false agreement which of course was marked with a complete form of actual mystification.

There was the certain case however, which remained in my memory for a significant period of time afterwards, and it essentially involved a French girl who due to her total inability to speak English was effectively an outcast when it came to joining my fellow students in conversation. Indeed, whilst the others were childishly immersed in the superfluous trivialities that usually propagated within the subjects of their attention, I came around and saw this very same girl sitting down on the grass with them but totally remote from their conversation; and believe me, we’re talking about a 2-3 metre physical distance here, with a rather startled, ‘what planet is this?’ gaze on her face.
Suddenly I felt a certain pity for her because seeing the flagrant boredom that marks a person’s countenance in my very own presence, is something I have a most utter disdain for.
I approached her tenuously with great care and tried to fuse together my English with my failingly patchy French and thus initiate a conversation. I succeeded for she was most polite despite the frequent misunderstandings that were prevalent throughout the duration of our encounter. However she constantly maintained a grace that presciently exposed to me the fact that she would undoubtedly develop to be a most attractive and mature woman.

We ended up talking with the uttermost entertaining linguistic limitations, of French writers and I am sure that any man would agree that a girl using her natural French accent to pronounce ‘Emile Zola’ is irresistibly, a most melodious and memorable music for the ears.
Nonetheless, our conversation was limited in time as much as it was limited in substance and thus, she left in a terribly inglorious procession that secured the knowledge for the both of us that would never see each other again.
The point being here is the complete state of ignorance that the others manifested within their limited scope of perception which meant that in spite of the fact that some of them had a French which was infinitely more advanced than mine and yet none of them engaged in any sort of verbal contact with her, absolutely forsaking the elemental perception that was needed to visually observe the girl’s preliminary sullen, downcast gaze.
These people, for a fact I knew to be the most boastful of their multitude of friends and yet they severely lacked the rudimentary senses for companionship and psychological insight. All of them had Hi5 pages with just about a million ‘buddies’; all of them were incessantly on their phones (with the subservient aim of course, to show just how many contacts they were in possession of). All of them were constantly spending an inordinate amount of time on MSN and such chat-room oases.

They ultimately did not have the excuse for the obvious language barrier that existed because I still proved that this did not matter in fact, and that a pleasant conversation was a most natural process of basic amiability.

Something else was indeed missing and it was borne out of what Immanuel Kant would preferably call ‘indebtedness’ that was unfortunately the primary impetus for their conveyance towards the girl i.e. indebtedness or enforced friendliness and not to the sincere and humane benevolence that marked my own attitude towards her, which ultimately made all the difference.

I hope she sought to understand this and my distinct humility, or perhaps maybe she would recall the encounter later on when her perceptive senses are more penetrating and mature.

Cleverness is all too well, but it is the sole job of the Perception to fill in the blanks that it often leaves behind.