I’ve had various odd jobs since moving to France, but one thing I do a lot of is tutoring. I find it inspires a welcome sense of superiority (see Tuesday’s post), pays 2.5 times as much as baby-sitting or dog-sitting, and best of all, doesn't require me to touch any poop.
Last spring and into the summer, I woke up every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and went to Joinville-le-Pont for English “play sessions” with three brothers--Victor, Ivan, and Frédéric--working individually, at 45-minute intervals. They were nice enough boys, but I think it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that they loathed me. Victor, the oldest at 11, might be listening to the sounds of a neighborhood game of foot wafting through the windows, and there I was grinning at him like a jack-o'-lantern.
Me: How ‘bout another round of I Spy?
Victor: Mmmm. I don’t sink so.
I assure you it wasn’t as merry as it sounds.
Ivan and Fred were a bit easier--they found my rendition of The Hokey Pokey inspiring, and when I brought over Monopoly, they thought I had invented the game. But novelty only lasts so long with eight-year-olds until they realize they’re looking at 22 more minutes in lockdown with the crazy singing lady. In retrospect, it seems unfair that I was the only one getting paid in the situation.
But adults, adults who actually want to learn? I can get on board for that. For an hour a day, their attention is mine, just like a child. For an hour a day, I can mold them and lord it around. For an hour a day, I am their superior. Who’s the lady with all the answers? Ding, ding, ding. That would be me.
(This would be a good time for the gods to begin peeling that banana. Also, I like my cream pies with just a hint of vanilla, thanks.)
One woman I tutor, Caroline, is trying to get ahead in the business world by working on her English. She’s a lovely woman whose beauty and demeanor belie her actual age. (There is a sixteen-year-old son.) Most importantly, Caroline has several Oxford Business English books, and we’re not expected to play Simon Says.
Tuesday night, I was defining something for her in French--a practice that the Alliance Française might not endorse, but Caroline has requested in order to save time. I started to explain, in French, “imagine if you,” and the informal “tu” just slipped out. And sat there like a floundering, flippy fish on the table. Uncomfortable. Obvious. Wrong.
Allow me to interject that, for the six months I worked at the magazine, I was the nerd using “vous” with all the hip fashion assistants on the phone (my age), until I heard them “tu” me first. And then I still usually stuck with “vous.” But with a woman of Caroline's age, well, there should be no question.
“Imagine si tu...”
Flip flip. Flip flip.
I felt like Ralphie just after he’s muttered the “F” word.
What do you do at this point? Once you’ve left a nice, fat, third-trimester pause? Do you clear your throat, smile, and say “VOUS” meaningfully? That seems so fey. Do you simply excuse yourself, or do you carry on like it never happened?
Me? I excused myself, then carried on, as one must when one is being paid by the hour.