“Me Talk Pretty One Day” Summary
At the age of forty-one, Sedaris has moved to Paris and is attending classes to learn the French language. On the first day of classes, Sedaris arrives early and watches the returning students, intimidated by their seemingly excellent language skills.
In his first class, Sedaris tries to mentally prepare himself to be put on the spot. Despite having spent several summers in Normandy and taken a basic French class before leaving New York, he doesn’t know the French alphabet and can only understand about half of what his teacher is saying when she begins class by saying, “Has everyone apzkiubjxow? Everyone? Good, we shall begin.”
The teacher instructs everyone to introduce themselves to the class in French by sharing their name, nationality, occupation, and the things they like and dislike. The students try to explain, in their extremely limited French, what they do and do not like, and the teacher disdainfully criticizes everyone’s stated dislike. When a Yugoslavian student claims to be an optimist, loving all that life has to offer, the teacher asks sarcastically if that student loves their war.
His turn fast approaching, Sedaris jots frantic notes and attempts to come up with an acceptable answer that he can actually articulate in French. When he is finally asked to speak, he replies that he detests blood sausage, intestinal pâtés, and brain pudding, while he loves IBM typewriters, the French word for “bruise,” and his electric floor waxer. Unfortunately, he mispronounces IBM and genders his nouns incorrectly, leading his teacher to mock him. Though Sedaris doesn’t say anything, he privately thinks it’s silly to assign genders to inanimate objects in the first place, wondering what the point is of referring to “Lady Crack Pipe or Good Sir Dishrag.”
Lessons with this teacher, whose unpredictable temperament Sedaris compares to that of a “wild animal,” continue in this brutal fashion over the coming months. The students learn to be very careful of what they say and become adept at dodging thrown chalk; Sedaris notes that, though the teacher hasn’t “punched anyone” yet, it seems like only a matter of time.
One day, the teacher tells Sedaris, “I really, really hate you,” in perfect English, one of the five languages she’s fluent in. Her endless criticism prompts Sedaris to pour himself into his homework, devoting more hours than strictly necessary into his studies. Despite his efforts, his humorous responses to the writing prompts only seem to increase the teacher’s dislike of him. Feeling increasingly insecure about his linguistic ability, Sedaris begins to fear speaking French...
(The entire section is 663 words.)