My french course in Paris consisted of a group of foreigners from different parts of the world. I’d end up naming at least 20 countries if I start enumerating.
In the course, the teacher deliberately teamed up a couple of folks who did not have any acquaintances and were coming from different countries. That was her way of ensuring that we put more effort and tried to learn french as it ended up as the only common language among us. I got teamed up with an Italian girl and a Chinese guy. The Chinese guy, a cook by profession, had been living in Paris for 10 years. The Italian girl, who often was accompanied by another Italian friend of hers, had just moved to Paris about two months back, to do some professional course.
The Chinese guy did not really need to learn french, professionally, as he worked in the kitchen of an Asian restaurant. He never had to communicate with the customers directly. All he had to do was to take orders and prepare food. He was an expert in making few dishes of Chinese, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisines. However, it is a must to know fluent spoken French in order to get French citizenship and that was his only motivation. He seemed like a really smart guy who could pick up grammar very quickly. His written french was impeccable. However, he struggled with his spoken French mainly because of his accent and it was really tough to understand him. French is a phonetic language and sounds matter a lot. He was also quite lazy, so did not really put much effort in correcting his phonetics.
The Italian girl was a bubbly girl with a lot of exuberance. I have never been to Italy but I had heard a lot about beautiful Italian ladies, and she was no exception. She seemed around ten years younger to me. She knew most of the French vocabulary as both Italian and French have their roots in Latin. Apparently, she was terrible at french grammar, which is quite different from Italian grammar. She was there to sharpen that part of French. She had the habit of talking with gestures like other Italians, which I enjoyed. Another characteristic that amused me, was her Italian accent.
Initially, it all started slow for the group as both the Chinese guy and I feared making mistakes and wouldn’t talk much. However, the Italian girl, talkative that she was, would put all her effort to make us talk. With time, we started helping each other by exchanging notes when one of us was absent. We would copy each others assignments when one of us did not do it. There were several things to be done as part of the course work and most of the ideas were given by the Italian lady. I used to pitch in now and then. The Chinese chap was quite laid back and only followed us.
On one of the occasions, the teacher suggested an abrupt oral exam with only two in each group. We had to come up with a scene, where we used all the French we learnt so far. Fortunately, the Italian lady and I fell in the same group. We thought of a very interesting scene of a girl smoking and a man trying to get to know her. The scene started with me asking her if she could spare me a cigarette. On her obliging, we both smoke together and try to get to know each other. We seemed to have pulled it off well. This was a very common scene in Paris and that was our motivation.
Eventually, the Italian girl introduced us to her friend, who often accompanied her. I could sense that her friend was not very pleased with our group. One day I caught them gesturing violently but completely ignored it. I don’t know what my Italian classmate was thinking, but suddenly one day she pointed to her friend and told me, “She is my girl friend. We are partners.” And my classmate explained that she was in Paris to be able to spend time with her girl friend. She got enrolled in a random course so that she could be in Paris. I was quite amused by that sudden confession, but I understood her concern. I immediately erased her fears by saying, “Don’t worry, I am married!!”
Later, I came to know that her girl friend was jealous of me and had explicitly asked her to reveal it to me that they were partners. The moment she came to know that I had no other intention apart from being a good team-mate, she was quite embarrassed. That made her a butt of our eventual jokes. Her girl friend was quite different from the rest of the girls in Paris. She had a masculine dressing style and a weird haircut for a girl. She would not put much effort to groom herself. I immediately placed her amongst the social rebels in Paris. She also became good friends with me, thanks to my classmate.
After they became friends with me, they seemed really comfortable kissing in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they were still trying to drive home a point, but they seemed like every other heterosexual couple. Even today when I think that a girl was jealous of me, it amuses me. But definitely, it opened my eyes to same-sex relationships, and yes, it stereotypically had to happen in a French class!