Moi Je Suis Un Burger Au Fromage
The good ship schoolhouse sails on. And we have a new crew member: Mademoiselle J., a sixteen year old Swiss girl who has spent the last eight years living on a yacht moored off Sainte Maarten Island in the Caribbean, studying by correspondence.
We picked her up from Pearson late on Monday night. I made a cardboard sign with her name written on it in purple, and waved carried over my head as I stood beside tour operators waving similar signs for cliques of executives. Scarlet and Littlestar saw her before I did, and then she was standing beside us. "Hello!" I said. "I'm CheeseburgerBrown."
She smiled uncertainly.
I tried again. "Allo, je m'appelle Burger au Fromage Brun."
The light of comprehension signalled in her eyes. "Je suis Mlle. J," she said quietly. I introduced Littlestar and Scarlet, and then took her lead-weighted duffel bag. I tried to converse with her more as we navigated the endless corridors of the airport, but all I accomplished was to highlight the terribly decayed state of my French.
For example, I misinterpreted her inquiry after a payphone as a request to go to the washroom, thereby causing her some secret anxiety as she failed to call her parents as soon as she landed as she had been instructed. She put on a brave face however and let us pile her into the Volvo.
Her father called my cellular while we on the road, and we were able to satisfy him that we had received his daughter intact. I apologized for the misunderstanding. She did not seem put out, and explained that her father can be a bit of a nervous type.
Mlle. J. was very concerned about waking up on time the next morning to assume her nannying duties, but we insisted that she let her body decide when to wake her up after a day of travel. She confessed that the day had been trying, especially when the American customs agents interrogated new in North Carolina for the better part of an hour, alternately accusing her of being a teenage runaway and of being some kind of anarchist sabateur, possibly on account of chemistry-oriented textbooks in her bag.
"Jesus!" said Littlestar. "America is insane."
"Ils sont tellement peur, aux Etats Unis," I added. "Paranoid."
Mlle. J. nodded seriously.
The next morning came Mlle. J.'s introduction to Little Miss Popsicle, who immediately set out to demonstrate the use of every toy in her collection in a gush of verbiage barely comprehensible to a native English speaker, let alone a shy Francophone. "Mad'selle J. come on!" Popsicle implored, tugging on the girl's hand and leading her into the nursery. "See my toys, I show you dem!"
It only took Popsicle an hour or two to figure out that she could take advantage of Mlle. J.'s unfamiliarity with our house rules. After Popsicle poured hummingbird feed over all herself and then unceremoniouosly spread out and then rolled in a bucket of muck and grass seed, Littlestar and I decided it was time to have a chat with Mlle. J. about enforcing basic boundaries. We told her to use her own judgement, and should we disagree we will let her know in a friendly and inoffensive way. Thus, nothing to fear.
Mlle. J. nodded and smiled. I asked, "Vouz comprennez?"
"Oui," she assented simply.
We asked her to speak French with the child and in return we would speak English with Mlle. J. (or more accurately Littlestar would speak English and I'd speak English mixed with simultaneous self-translation (a la Air Canada dual-language announcements) for the first few weeks until she found her Anglophone feet). She seemed concerned that Popsicle wouldn't understand her, but we remained firmly in support of immediate immersion.
"Okey," agreed Mlle. J., unreadable.
Another day went by and she did indeed begin to interact more with the toddler, playing together in the sink in Mlle. J.'s bedroom (which Littlestar hastily converted from a kitchen, about twenty-four hours before Mlle. J. flew in). We learned that Mlle. J. is a fan of science-fiction, that her favourite subjects are physics and mathematics, and that she wishes to become a teacher. Her studies via correspondence have been conducted at an accelerated pace, and thus she is scoping out a Canadian university for herself (as Ste. Maarten has no institutes of higher education). She has only occasionally had access to a computer, and has only glimpsed the Internet over her father's shoulder.
She eats little, and is unswervingly polite. She drinks only water.
After supper I suggested that we go downstairs to watch Revenge of the Sith on the big screen TV, and asked if Mlle. J. would like to join us. Her expression bloomed. "Ah ouip! J'adore 'La Geurre des Etoiles'!"
Americana crosses all borders, I guess. We were all fairly blown away by the quality of the transfer, which I burned to S-VCDs after downloading them from the nefarious idea-pirates of the intarweb. I think the opening action of Episode III is by far the best opening of any picture in the saga, even besting the throaty purr and inspired lines of the Royal Naboo Starship from Episode II.
Mlle. J. said she much preferred hearing the voices of the real actors, even if she couldn't understand very much. She's seen the film on Ste. Maarten with dubbed French dialogue and Dutch subtitles.
She is slowly loosening up, and talking with us more. We look forward to actually getting to know her, once the language barrier is tramped down to a more reasonable bramble.
It seems to me that our life here contrasts sharply with life aboard a boat with your parents and two brothers. The isolation is comparable perhaps, but she has privacy here and wide fields of grass and trees to explore. Today Littlestar has taken her into the big city, to see some sights and meet some friends. After telephoning Ste. Maarten yesterday her father tells us that she reported being very pleased with everything. "She's a hard worker, you know," he said to Littlestar, implying perhaps that we should give her more to do.
"Do you think she's bored?" asked Littlestar.
"Not at all! She's just very reserve. She does not show much of the emotion through the face, her."
Anyway, we're pleased as punch to have her staying with us. I'm sure she's going to have a fabulous time -- we have a lot of fun around here. Those of you out there who are attending our happy summer festival will get to meet her, since she'll be staying until August.
This week it is hot as a monkey's bum here. The window in Mlle. J.'s room does not open, so Old Oak smashed it out. He says he'll install a new one as soon as it isn't quite so damnedly hot. "Too hot to vork, ja!" he said.
And who can blame him? The sweat pours off me as I sit here in my office, blown at three ways from Sunday by a battery of fans. I feel like working so much that I'm blogging. Er.
Maybe I'll write a little more Simon of Space or something. I would kill for a beer.
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 12:40