****The Philosopher's Demise
Learning to Speak French
by Richard Watson
Reviewed February 3, 2004.
A Nonpareil Book (David R. Godine), Boston, 1995. 121 pages.
Available on Amazon.com in paperback for $11.17.
Available at Sembach Library (818.54 WAT).
Last December, www.commonreader.com
sent me an e-mail about this book that sounded so intriguing, I decided
that if I didn’t get the book for Christmas, I would buy it myself after
Christmas. The very next day, the book showed up in a big box of new
books at the library! I checked it out as soon as we got it processed.
Richard Watson is a top American scholar of Cartesian philosophy.
He is good at reading French, and has even translated books from French.
Speaking French, however, is another matter. When he learned he would
have to give a paper in French, he determined that, at last, he would
learn to speak it.
The task was not an easy one. Apparently reading and speaking
French are two very different things. (I have complete sympathy
with him based on my experiences with German.) First, he took private
lessons with a native French speaker. Then the real cross-cultural
experiences began when he took French classes in Paris.
Imagine, if you will, an American university professor taking classes
in a place where it is acceptable to call students an idiot or an imbecile.
Where it is considered incomprehensible to want to see your scores on an
exam that you failed. The French definitely handle classes differently
than Americans do.
Richard Watson provides many humorous and insightful comments on French
people and French culture and language, which in turn sheds light on Americans
and our beliefs and customs. He has turned a humiliating, difficult
experience into a triumph of insight into human nature.
I love cross-cultural books, especially books about the cultures of
Europe, which we don’t immediately realize are so different from our own.
An entertaining and enlightening book.
Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.