I’m attending a seminar to assist with my upcoming year of teaching. Over the course of the next four days we will explore the sciences, humanities, and developmental issues related to the age of my students.

In a writing workshop we were asked to take fifteen minutes and write a story with a surprising element. As a person who prides himself on telling surprising stories, I found myself painfully blocked. The only tale that I could think of was amusing, but hardly surprising to anyone who’s eaten in France. As the minutes ticked by I stopped trying to force something brilliant or poetic and put down this simple bit of autobiography:

I am the only person seated at the outdoor cafe in the early hours of the evening. Even though the narrow street has been thrown into shadow the cobblestones still radiate heat from the summer sun. A lanky waiter inquires about a beverage. I order a Belgian beer, having grown weary of experimenting with weak French brews for the past week. The drink comes as warm as the day but I hold my tongue lest I live up to the reputation of my countrymen abroad.

Dinner is ordered and arrives just as the last dregs of beer are put away. “Un autre boisson avec le diner?” he asks.* The first beer has warmed me to the idea of another, regardless of how tepid it might be. I order another. The waiter stands quietly staring down at my bowl of steaming mussels in a delicate white wine broth. Then he regards me with a look that seems two parts pity and one part disgust. “Monsieur,” he says crisply as he slips the bill beneath the lip of my bowl, “absolument pas!”**

*Note emphasis.

**Linguists be aware that French is not my forte. Tu as? Furthermore, I don’t know the key commands for accents so spelling errors are inherent.

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