After moving to Paris to learn French, Sedaris takes his quest a step further by enrolling in a French class. Sedaris is already...
The point of David Sedaris's essay "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is to demonstrate how knowledge can sometimes come from the unlikeliest of places.
After moving to Paris to learn French, Sedaris takes his quest a step further by enrolling in a French class. Sedaris is already nervous about having to perform in class, and the instructor's declaration that everyone should already know the French alphabet does little to put the author at ease.
The instructor asks two students, dubbed "Two Polish Annas," to state their basic biographical information as well as what they like and dislike about the world. She further asks one of them to state how the class came to be "blessed with someone as unique and original as you? Tell us, please."
As Sedaris writes, "the seamstress did not understand what was being said but knew this was an occasion for shame."
The instructor's blistering assaults continue when she calls upon a Yugoslavian student, who terms herself an optimist because "she loved everything that life had to offer."
The teacher licked her lips, revealing a hint of the saucebox we would later come to know. She crouched low for her attack, placed her hands on the young woman's desk, and leaned close, saying, "Oh yeah? And do you love your little war?"
The attacks continue: the instructor decries her students for disliking soap, laziness, and paintbrushes, even accusing the optimistic Yugoslavian girl of orchestrating genocide.
The students naively believe this first-day cage rattling will cease once the "deadweight" falls away. It doesn't.
Sedaris's response to the instructor's constant belittling is to spend inordinate amounts of time on his homework assignments in an attempt to turn the instructor's assessment of him as "lazy" to "David the hard worker." Of course, when she tells him in pitch-perfect English, "I really, really hate you," it would seem all his efforts are for naught.
The instructor's brutality does not make her students rise to the occasion but rather demeans and demoralizes them, stripping them of confidence in their linguistic skills—and, indeed, in themselves. Sedaris describes his fellow students as "huddled in the hallways and making the most of our pathetic French ... engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps." They hope to "talk pretty" one day.
It is only after an entire term of unrelenting insults that Sedaris has the revelation that he perfectly understands French. He comes to find the scorn soothing and glorious in a way—because though he can't necessarily speak as fluently as he may wish, he can finally decipher what the language of love means.