Al mashriq - The Levant

Fourth Grade French Class -- 1929

by Betty Witherspoon '37

Madame, the French teacher, lived next door to the school and everyone liked her. She always adopted any stray cats which we found and which weren't allowed in the boarding department. She also came to any plays which the boarding department put on. Madame was one of the many higher class Russians who were driven out of their native country, many of whom took refuge in Syria. All of them were musically inclined and often we would got to hear concerts which they put on weekly at the University of Beirut.

Although Elizabeth Kuenzler '36 was put up a grade, she stayed with us for French. None of the fourth grade had had French before, so Madame started us on first grade work. Every grade in the school from the first to the twelfth took French. Madame did not start in, as they do in America, by grammar out of a book, but she believed in conversation. Then, when we got so we could talk better, she would give us verbs and storybooks in French from which to read. The French room was always very cheerful and we sat around a large walnut round table on which were the marks of the French classes through the years the school had existed. It seemed each person had put his or her mark on the table. Carved all over the table were sets of initials with hearts around them. In one place in the middle of the table a boy who had left a few years before had thrown his knife and there it stuck. When he tried to pull it out, the blade remained and there it stayed.

Madame always insisted that we talk in French. Not a word was to be spoken in English. Of course, on our first few days we could say little but just listen.

"Madame," said Philip Freidinger '36 one bright sunny day, "can we go out in the yard and have our lesson? It's so nice out!" "Philip! Ne parlez-vous pas en Anglais" reminded Madame sharply. "Nom" answered Philip angelically in Arabic, "Anna beddi ruhi al- jenanie ilyome. Fee katire shemse wa il kwaise." We all laughed and when Madame reprimanded us we reminded her rejoicingly: "But you didn't say we couldn't talk in Arabic. You just said not to talk in English."

Philip was unusually full of the Devil that day. A few minutes later Madame had occasion to scold him rather severely for his behavior. A long speech forthcame in French during which Madame reminded him that he should try to be good in French and live up to his brother's reputation. Madame took at least fifteen minutes, and when she finally finished she looked at Philip and inquired sharply: "Comprenez-vous maintenant, Philip?" That young rascal turned slowly from the window through which he had been gazing the full length of the calling-down and asked in a meek voice, "What did you say, Madame? Were you talking to me?" For once Madame was speechless.