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...
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.