School’s out for the summer – Part 2

The second time I voluntarily went to school in the summer was to attend a 6 week French immersion course. With all of the logic the Federal government (who funded the course) could muster, the location chosen to transform us to French fluency was the Scarborough outpost of the University of Toronto. I had only been to Toronto once or twice before but even I knew that Scarborough was not actually Toronto. This location was probably chosen so that bright lights and night life would not distract us from our ‘devoirs’. In any case, the student residences of Scarborough College were our cloister for the duration.

Despite our decidedly non-French environs, the program immersed us in it pretty much 24/7. It was kind of a cross between a weird summer camp and a minimum security prison. We had all meals together in a dining hall and they took attendance, even at dinner. We also had assigned tables which made it kind of obvious if someone was missing without permission. Each table took turns being the wait staff – taking orders from the menu (of course we had a menu and I even think we had wine at dinner – this was as full a French immersion as you could get) and bussing the tables. Each night one table was also responsible for the evening entertainment (also not optional). You have not lived until you have experienced the French translation of the ‘Ivory Soap’ skit or a rousing version of “Ne jettez pas votre jonque dans mon arriere-cour”.

Since this was an urban location, our daytime activities did not involve swimming, boating or outdoor survival skills. Instead, we had a roster of classes to attend. However, rather than drilling us on grammar and vocabulary from text books, our language acquisition took place while learning yoga (les salutations au soleil) and macramé. I also took ballet, which was my designated bird course as it did not require learning any new French words.

Part of the agenda of our immersion was to learn the idioms of Quebec French. I had gone through the entire roster of publicly funded French education including two full year courses in my final year of High School. I knew where to find my aunt’s pen and also how to converse with people who were on strike (one of the stranger scenarios that were included in our French textbook in Grade 5). Anyone who experienced this curriculum also has the secret handshake of referring to the second level in a parking garage as ‘the little dog’. But I digress. One thing we did not get exposed to was the real way people spoke their native language in Quebec. This is where ‘les Pierres a Feu’ came in. I am forever grateful to the dubbed version of Fred Flintstone and his ‘char au pied’ and Betty Rubble’s ‘fete du magasiner’ for the dramatic increase in my joual literacy.

This would have all come in very handy had I followed the fork in the road that would have taken me to a summer job in the National Assembly library in Quebec City. Alas, neither my skills acquired through immersion in French nor my summer immersion in Algebra had a half-life much longer than the time it took to acquire them. But time well wasted none-the-less.

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