Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shot Down By The Grammarians

With no direct experience of war, thank goodness, I don't know what it is to wait and worry about someone in combat, but I have read that the worst thing is the not knowing, the unanswered questions. I don't like waiting. I don't like not knowing. Last Monday I had my oral examination for the cheese program in the morning, and a state-certified French comprehension test in the afternoon, and I don't have the results for either of them, yet. I am not particularly happy with the way the morning session went, either. I'd reviewed the paper I wrote on monastery cheeses but then lost track of what I wanted to say while trying to summarize that paper. The questions afterwards went better, but I'm still not sure how they're going to judge me or determine what I learned from the course, because none of the questions were on what I learned. And I'm not sure that I had my paper in the correct French format - not the language, I'm fairly confident on that, and not the information in the paper, because I did my research, but that there was some particular issue of style or organization or who knows what that the two reviewers didn't like. I'd provided two formal copies of the paper, spiral bound and with a fancy cover and all the required details on the front, as requested. At one point one of the reviewers picked up a copy, holding it by one corner like it was a used dust rag, shaking it slightly, and asked me if I'd had anyone read through the paper before I handed it in. I said yes, someone had read it, but that there hadn't been any suggestions other than phrasing and words here and there. "Hmm ..." said the reviewer, and dropped the paper as if it were a week-dead fish. I am afraid that this is another weird situation where I didn't follow the rules, but I have no idea what those rules were. When my exam was over, the reviewers thanked me and said that I would get the results in forty-eight hours or so. That was six days ago.

In the municipal cemetery at St-Pierre-des-Corps, the southeastern quarter of the Tours metropolitan area, the graves are low and plain between the gravel walkways. Near the main entrance, there's a set of tombstones commemorating soldiers killed in World War II, "shot down by the Germans." I spent a half hour or so walking around the cemetery, which is near the building where I took the TCF (Test de connaissance du français). I got there early, since I hopped on the first bus that came by downtown after mailing off a set of letters to prospective apprenticeship locations for the next school year, and drinking some orange juice for lunch. I haven't heard back from any of those people either, except for one couple who said that they don't take apprentices. Which is odd, because they were on the list of contacts I received from the school program coordinator in Pau. And which is too bad, because I really wanted to work with them, as they make sheep cheese and have musicales every month; the wife is a former professional pianist. I'll follow up with the other contacts in a week or so, and write - again - to the program coordinator, who hasn't answered my last two e-mails, and who doesn't want me to call. Her personal number is the contact given on the brochure, and Marie-Morgane assured me that she called that number without a problem, but the last time I spoke to the coordinator on the phone she made a point of remarking that it was her home phone, and that she wasn't at work. Another rule broken, apparently.

When I took the practice test on line, I scored fairly well, and at the level I need to apply to the program in the fall. I think I did slightly better on the oral comprehension part on Monday, about the same on the grammar, and perhaps not as well in the written comprehension section. I think I understood the texts well enough, and I understood the question about each text, and I understood the four possible answers. But there were some cases where I didn't understand why any of the possible answers would be right, or why of the three answers that seemed reasonable one of them would be the most reasonable. The last text/question/answer combination was particularly frustrating because while one of the answers could be eliminated easily, the other three were about the same level of probability and logic, in a somewhat illogical way. What I mean to say is that I think there was some sort of subtext going on, some way of interpreting a phrase or two that perhaps you have to be French to get in order to pick the best answer when there were two other answers that were also true (I think), but not quite as true. Whether that was to test my fluency in French, or my worthiness to live in France, I may have failed on both counts.

There were a few dozen other hopeful Francophones there to take the test, most from China. The young man on my left leaned over and whispered that it would be really helpful if I could let him see my test answers, since he really really had to test out at the B2 level. I said no, I wasn't going to help him cheat. Five minutes later he asked again, and I turned to one of his friends to my right and asked if this was normal in China, for people to copy answers. She said no, and in fact in China if they catch you then both people get their exams torn up. "Well, you just have to do whatever you feel is right," said the young man. What I did is leave half an hour before the end of the test period, just to screw with his head. I suppose I could have checked my answers over for the grammar and written parts, but I don't like to second-guess myself and I'd been pretty thorough the first time through. And I was getting frustrated by feeling like the answer to half the questions was "the larch" or the French equivalent, and that I'd never solve the secret code. Plus, messing with cheater guy's head. And getting back out in the sun was nice, too, though it was pretty humid that afternoon. I'll get an e-mail in a few weeks telling me that I can pick up my results at the language school in the center of town, and then we'll see if all hopes of getting accepted into the university at Pau have been shot down, or if my dreams live on.


  1. Keep up your spirits, Sweetie. And if all else fails, you can always close down for awhile for reconstruction. Or maybe some dignitary will visit with you. I can't say specifically, or give you any details though.