Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I've been spending a lot of time with other immigrants lately in mandatory government sponsored classes I have to take for my resident card. I like being around immigrants from around the world because it makes me feel like I am at the UN. I've learned a lot about other cultures, I've learned the fastest way to get a room riled up is to mention Algeria and/or "respect" and I've learned never to accept a government sponsored fish lunch.

SETTING: Small, airless room in a government building somewhere in the north east of Paris
SITUATION: Mandatory French Civics class to obtain resident card
CAST: 38 legal immigrants, 4 French government workers a.k.a. "the checker inners", one hyperactive civics teacher and one paid non-English speaking English translator.

9AM: I take my seat along the wall in between Philippines and Algeria. It's too hot in here and why does it already smell like eggs? China and Tunisia are sitting by the window and refuse to open it. The overhead fluorescent lights are killing me. Briefly consider that going to bed at 3:30AM was a really, really bad idea. 8 more hours. Settle in.
9:18AM: Enter The Translator. 30 something guy in dark glasses who perpetually looks annoyed, apologizes for being late in French and takes his seat at the back of class. All who don't understand French gather round him so they may hear his English translation. I prefer the comfort of the wall.
9:29AM: Overactive civics teacher has spent eleven minutes yelling aggressively about how AMAZINGLY AWESOME! French history is. Since it's so great and wonderful, why are you yelling at me? We're right here, lady. Translator is silent, I think he might actually be sleeping under the dark glasses. Finally Russia asks him what the Teacher just said.

TRANSLATOR: (annoyed) Nozing of eemportance.
RUSSIA: Uh, ok.
TRANSLATOR: (silent)
TEACHER: (speaks for five minutes about the French Republique) Translate please!
TRANSLATOR: Ehhh, between zee zerd and zee feef, zey like uh, zey really liked eet.

I stifle a laugh as I cannot actually believe THAT is his translation for 11 minutes of history. I now realize to be a paid government English translator, you don't actually have to speak English. Or even speak at all. The 3rd and the 5th WHAT? Can I at least get a SUBJECT? Translator is neither bothered nor disturbed by the questions around him and slowly everyone not understanding French drifts off into dreamland as they realize they will be spending 7 more hours with someone yelling something they don't understand at them in French while sleeping Yoda speaks in code every 8 minutes.

Now we go around the room and give our names, country of origin and how long we have been in France. We get to a tall guy with dreads at the back of the class.
TG: (barely audible) It's Nafir.
TEACHER: Where are you from?
TG: (gives her a long annoyed look before sighing) Naaaaaaaah.
TEACHER: Excuse me?
TG: (shakes his head) Nuh uh.
TEACHER: What do you mean? I am asking you where you are FROM.
TG: (takes another long look at her up and down) Nah. It's complicated. Move on.
TEACHER: (infuriated) I SAID WHERE ARE YOU FROM!!? Everyone is from SOMEWHERE.
TG: Yyyyyyyyeah.
TG: (another long pause) Naaaaaah. Complicated. And I don't HAVE to tell you. I'm not GONNA tell you so MOOOOVE ON.

Entire class looks in awe at complicated dude.
He really does seem.....complicated. Teach decides it IS probably wise to back off at this point and does, in fact, move on.

10:40AM: Losing battle with sleep and resort to head down with pen in hand to pretend write.
10:48AM: I wake up to my least favorite game, the game played by every roomful of immigrants in every mandatory class I have been in. I call it the IN MY COUNTRY! game. It can be started anytime, in the middle of anyone's sentence, about any fact, off topic, non sequitur and something you know as little about as possible is preferred.
Today's first player is Australia girl who in the middle of a sentence about jobs in France announces...

AUSTRALIA: You can be a cop in Australia!
(Here we go........)
CANADA: No you can't.
AUSTRALIA: Yes you can!
CANADA: No you actually CANNOT, I know this because my uncle moved there and bought some land and.....

13 minutes spent on whether an immigrant can be a cop in Australia. Maybe I am just an annoyed, close-minded NYC jerk but what does that have ANYTHING to do with what jobs I can take in FRANCE? The country I am LIVING IN. The country we are ALL IMMIGRANTS IN. If I wanted to know Australian cop laws, I would have ALREADY GOOGLED THAT SHIT. Before I can get even more riled up, the IN MY COUNTRY! game takes a sudden turn as China guy who up to that point has been silent, SHOUTS from the back corner, jolting awake those around him:
(room goes silent)
"YOU BUY HOUSE IN CHINA!!" he shrieks again. Teacher looks on with her Oprah smile as she has successfully gotten her immigrant class to open up and relate to each other. I thought this was a French Civics class, not a Customs Around The World Based In Shaky Facts class.

USA LAWYER: No, you actually CANNOT buy a house in China.
USA LAWYER: NO, that is just a LEASE, a lot different than buying land, you cannot pass that onto your children so you actually CANNOT buy a house in China.
CHINA: (upset, shouting and pointing at the sky) YES! YOU BUY HOUSE! THEY IN THE SKY! YOU BUY HOUSE IN THE SKY!

The class falls silent because, really, what more is there to say? You buy house in sky in China and then go be a cop in Australia. Moving on.

Next discussion is about passports and EU citizenship, Russia proclaims....
RUSSIA: I don't like that you HAVE to show a passport when traveling to the UK, mine is Dutch."
SERBIA: You have Dutch passport? You Dutch?
RUSSIA: (reacting as though Serbia had threatened her very life) I am NOT DUTCH, I AM RUSSIAN!
SERBIA: You have Dutch passport, you Dutch. You already EU citizen.
SERBIA: You Dutch. Why you even here? You no need to be here, you EU, you Dutch.
REST OF CLASS: (taking any opportunity to chime in) Yeah! Why are you here? You don't need to be here if you're Dutch! If you're Dutch, you are already EU! Who told you to come here?!@#, etc.
RUSSIA: (face red with fury) It is for my work and I AM NOOOOOT DUUUUTCH!

OK, so Russia is not Dutch. From the third to the fifth, they liked it. You buy house in sky in China and you can be a cop in Australia.
French Civics 101.
Got it.


אלוהים said...

LOL :)

all these different cultures... it's beautiful!

Anonymous said...



Kimberly said...

Love your writing, as always. Hang in there.

mouche said...

Dana, I could read stories like this write brilliantly. I particularly identify with your alliance francaise/french learning adventures too, having moved to France a year ago and gone through exactly the same. Have you read Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris? I see striking similarities! Keep entertaining us. Cheers

MaTaCo dot com said...

oh my lord please make the laughing pains stop. help.

Marlene said...


You know what? In my country it would never happen !

margaret said...

So, you're in that room for **8** hours? ... I think you were very wise to sidestep that fish lunch. Your post gave me my absolute biggest laugh this week! Bon courage, KFD!

jessica said...

why would i try to read this at work? i've missed you and the blog and now i'm eeking out giggles when i should be planning the core values for a brownsville middle school. sending you love and hugs...

John said...

It's interesting being converged into one place with different people living different lifestyles. In terms of hunting for a house though you have to be really clever enough as purchasing a house these days is not that easy.

Michelle said...

Hilarious!! :)

amelie said...

I creeped out everyone around me as I laughed out loud to this.

Oh... immigrants. We're an odd bunch, aren't we?