I am on vacation for the next two weeks (bless the French and their frequent vacations!) and it is a much-needed break from children. Not that I don’t sincerely enjoy children, but sometimes I get weary of interactions based on songs, art projects, worksheets, and an endless stream of sticky Nutella hands. Children, despite the fact they are supposedly subordinate to us, the adults, often impact us just as much. For instance, the youngest girl I nanny has been having speech therapy to correct a lisp. Unfortunately, as my French is impressionable to those around me, I have now developed an occasional lisp. What is cute at 5 is not at 22.
This week my students were understandably rowdy. After 7 weeks back in classes — minus Wednesdays, as primary school is just 4 days a week – their little selves can’t take anymore. The French “need” for vacation is imparted from a young age. This week I aggravated the situation by given an exam. In one of my classes the kids were so talkative that I finally yelled at them like I have seen many French teachers do. The result was immediate terror and fear as they gaped open-mouthed at Miss Hannah, who never yells. The door to the adjoining classroom flew open and one of the teachers whose class I have another day stood there looking worried. “I heard you yell – you ok?” she asked. “Oh yes, “ I said. “They were just refusing to be quiet.” She looked at me and then at the terrified students and nodded approvingly. “Très bien fait!” she said.
In case any of you would like to know how to yell at a class like a scary French teacher, here are some of my favorite cries, with their literal and actual meaning. Note, before each phrase, give an aggressive sound something like an aborted bark.
Ça suffit! Lit: That’s enough! This is a good thing to cry at anyone who is anoying you through repeating something. You bark it quickly, emphasizing the final “fit” (feee).
Tu te calme! Lit: Settle down! This is usually directed at a child who has exhibited some great display of movement or wildness, such as leaning over to pick up a pencil. Often it comes in rapid succession after ça suffit.
C’est pas possible! Lit: Not possible! This phrase is peculiar. Basically, any time a group of students does something the teacher doesn’t like, they shake their heads and look at the group or any other adult in the room and utter this tragic phrase. It thus means something closer to this: “It is incomprehensible to me that I could be stuck with such a group of misbehaving and apparently unintelligent students!” Sometimes though, the teachers just say it for no reason, as if saying it will jumpstart the class to feats of academic and behavioral excellence.
N’importe quoi! Lit: Whatever. There is no real equivalent in English for this phrase. It is often used the same way we would use the phrase “whatever” but not always. Kids will use it to tattle on each other, as in “So and so is doing n’importe quoi” which could mean anything from eating his pen nubs, to kicking someone else’s chair, to drawing endless rings with his compass (the favorite pastime of French school children). Often however, I hear French teachers use this phrase as a sort of magical all-encompasing, “You are making me mad, and you don’t even know why but you better shape up!” When the teacher looks out at the class and says (emphasizing each syllable) “N’importe quoi!” you know that whatever you were doing, it is wrong. Doesn’t matter what it was, it is wrong. She has had enough, you didn’t calm yourself, and c’est pas possible that you persist in doing n’importe quoi!