If "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is satire, what does it satirize?

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In the beginning of “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” in his characteristic flippant, humorous tone, David Sedaris seems to set out to satirize the advantages of returning to school at middle-age. He facetiously enumerates, for instance, the benefits of his recently issued student ID: “a discounted entry fee...

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In the beginning of “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” in his characteristic flippant, humorous tone, David Sedaris seems to set out to satirize the advantages of returning to school at middle-age. He facetiously enumerates, for instance, the benefits of his recently issued student ID: “a discounted entry fee at movie theaters, puppet shows, and Festyland, a far-flung amusement park that advertises with billboards picturing a cartoon stegosaurus sitting in a canoe and eating what appears to be a ham sandwich.”

As Sedaris begins to write about his first day as a student learning French in Paris, his self-deprecating tone is refocused towards the challenging process of learning a new language. Sedaris describes how he and his classmates struggle to answer a question from their aggressive, seemingly sadistic teacher about their likes and dislikes, clearly depicting the experience of being forced to suddenly inhabit unfamiliar territory—a world in which one feels out of place, uncomfortable, and unable to express the nuances of his or her own identity. He writes, for instance, that the “two Polish Annas surely had clear notions of what they loved and hated, but like the rest of us, they were limited in terms of vocabulary, and this made them appear less than sophisticated.” As he exposes his fears and vulnerabilities as a student of a new language, he seems to satirize the often-held yet incorrect assumptions about the ease with which one learns a new language and assimilates to a foreign culture.

Sedaris also, in many ways, satirizes the idea of the effectiveness of authoritarian education. He describes the effects of his teacher’s strict, critical, abusive teaching methodology, citing his newfound reluctance to speak French in public places and his propensity for pretending “to be deaf” if someone asked him a question as evidence of the ineffectiveness of such a teaching style. However, he leaves the reader with a great deal of ambiguity when he writes at the end of his essay about suddenly being able to understand each insult his instructor sends his way. He recounts that the rewards of understanding a new language were both “intoxicating,” and “deceptive” and that the “world opened up” for him when he was suddenly able to understand French as a result of his teacher’s unforgiving pedagogy.

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Sedaris's essay "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is a satire of both the methods of challenging teachers and the process of learning itself. By placing himself in the role of the "fish out of water," Sedaris makes humorous his struggle to learn a second language later in life than is usual—and in a foreign country.

The satire of teachers who sometimes push their students harder than they are used to is embodied by his French instructor. The teacher "licked her lips" and "crouched low for her attack" on a hapless classmate. Her behavior is undoubtedly exaggerated for comic effect, but it is a situation to which anyone who has had a tough teacher can relate.

Learning a second language is difficult, and Sedaris satirizes his own difficulties, describing his teacher's words as gibberish to his ears when she singles him out "as a lazy kfdtinvfm." He further deprecates himself as unsophisticated and less attractive than the Europeans who "exhibited an ease and confidence that I found intimidating."

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If David Sedaris's "Me Talk Pretty One Day" satirizes anything, it's the seriousness—to the point of the instructor insulting students making some cry—with which people take language classes, which he seems to consider a recreational activity. 

In the opening paragraph, Sedaris sets the tone of the essay by clumping language classes in Paris with a series of recreational activities, including the movies, puppet shows, and Festyland, "a far-flung amusement park that advertises with billboards picturing a cartoon stegosaurus sitting in a canoe and eating what appears to be a ham sandwich."

However, for Sedaris, this idea of recreational activity goes away the minute he enters the school and feels completely out of place, or like "Pa Kettle trapped backstage after a fashion show." The first thing his teacher tells him demonstrates her seriousness in teaching the language to these students: "if you have not meimslsxp or lgpdmurct by this time, then you should not be in this room." The teacher then goes on to mock each student in the class who volunteers an answer at one point "accusing the Yugoslavian girl of masterminding a program of genocide."

However, while Sedaris makes light of her teaching style, by the end of the essay he realizes that he was actually understanding French better. By the time mid-October came around, Sedaris says he "could understand every word someone was saying" reveling in the fact the her insults became clear to him.

At the end of the essay, it's clear that this French class, which people take as a form of self-improvement and as something that should be fun, became a somewhat traumatic experience for many of the students.

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