An egg is un œuf.
By Jonny White.
I get along pretty well for a deaf guy. Mostly because I was born with it and so I developed fluency in my mother tongue using an assortment of secondary and ambient cues to compensate for the missing chunks of every conversation that I’ve ever had. But more than a decade ago, I married French and moved to Paris, where I discovered that many of those compensating strategies were often culturally specific, and therefore now useless and that learning French would prove to be an entirely different kettle of fish.
Thankfully French people do “Hand talk” a bit, but they’re not as theatrically expressive as the Italians, and they enunciate far less. It’s difficult to lip-read people who seem to be vocalizing through their sinus cavities like porpoises or whales do. And without electronic augmentation my comprehension of spoken French is often limited to a few vowel sounds with some slushy lisping noises interspersed throughout a sentence. Often it seems that French people begin each pronunciation with the very best intentions, but quickly become bored and let the word deflate like a tired old balloon.
Also, when a gentle wind blows over the receiving microphones of my hearing aids it can sound like the rolling shock-waves of a low yield thermonuclear detonation, so I need to set them to their lowest setting when I’m out on the street, commuting.
The bus stop in front of the Adult Learning Annex where I attend French Language classes for the hearing impaired is called “Place Charles Vallin”, but with my hearing aids switched off I hear the buses automated announcement declare, in a cinematically baritone voice;
I’m almost certain that is not correct, but when I step off the bus, I check the sign anyway. Just for my own peace of mind because I wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong neighborhood.
It’s not my first French class, but this one suits me remarkably well. As a matter a fact, to my recollection this is the first time that I am the least deaf person in my class. And along with French grammar I’m also incidentally acquiring a smattering of LSF, or Langue des Signe Français. For example; I learned that if you wanted to say the word “Macron” in French sign language, you should drag your thumb across your cheek, diagonally, like you’re drawing on a cool, vintage G.I Joe scar, which apparently refers to President Emmanuel Macron’s distinctive sideburns.
And if for some reason you wanted to sign the word “Trump”, simply place your hand vertically on the top and to the side of your head and begin waving your fingers as if it were a wispy comb-over, blowing in the wind.
I learned my lesson quite young that because I am a relatively high functioning deaf person and my hearing loss is not initially apparent, that the types of misunderstandings which will typically occur to me during the course of my daily encounters will follow a predictable pattern. When I say the word “What?” it is often misinterpreted as “duh?” when more often than not I mean to say “I can’t hear you” and it is simply less time consuming to allow certain people to go on thinking that I am a jerk or an idiot rather then it is to disabuse them of their notions with complicated explanations of how deaf I am or am not. If I had a nickel for every time someone shouted at me “What’re you f*%king deaf?!!?” I would probably have enough nickels to be able to cover the cost of my hearing aids, which believe me, would take a lot of nickels. They’re discreet, mostly efficient and quite expensive. Discretion, however, is often counterproductive when it comes to hearing aids. My classmates who are totally or profoundly deaf often sport the antique variety that stick out like a sore thumb and often they don’t bother putting batteries in, since their principal function is not to help them hear, but to manage the angry outbursts of other people who otherwise wouldn’t know they were interacting with someone with a handicap, and therefore be unabashed in their reactions.
I get it. It’s frustrating to not be heard. But you wouldn’t shout “What’re you blind?” at someone wearing an eye patch, or “Hey! Usain Bolt! Let’s make it snappy!” to someone who was missing his leg at the knee.
The inception of my romantic notions of French culture began during the VCR era before digital special features were available. At the time the only access to subtitled, movie entertainment was available in the foreign film aisle of the local video rental store, and as it so happened, during the late 80’s and early 90’s only the very best, and most successful foreign films were distributed onto the American market. The French film industry saturated my imagination, which was already primed by hormones, with legends of tragically captivating, sad-eyed beauties that were just waiting for me under the shade of poplar trees and café awnings, to come on over and comfort their heartbroken and mistreated souls, and pay attention to their full frontal nudity. I also found it encouraging that French leading men were distinctly homely by Hollywood standards of handsome. I figured that my chances were as good as they could get, and so when one thing led to another and I met and married my own sad-eyed beauty, I took the plunge across the pond to find out what is myth and what is real life.
The truth is that the reality of life in Paris is both remarkably close to those teenage daydreams and a million miles away.
There are aspects of the city that have and will always exceed even the rosiest expectations of the most committed romantic, but it is a densely populated capital metropolis like any other and Parisians will occasionally get up into each other’s grill. Fracases are not uncommon.
“The Paris Syndrome” sounds like the name of a stylish and gripping, action-thriller but is in fact a recognized psychological disorder which for some reason exclusively afflicts Japanese tourists to the city. It is characterized by paranoia, dissociative anxiety and delusions of persecution and I suppose it’s what happens when someone who comes from a culture that imports vast amounts of almost fetishistically romantic imagery of a Parisian lifestyle, then invests their personal fortune into a sixteen hour, six thousand mile plane flight in economy seating in order to realize their own “Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” only to witness a drunk passenger chuck a whole rotiserie chicken at a homeless person on the Métro, en route to visit La Tour Eiffel. You’d think that someone who lives on an island that has been beset by earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes and Godzilla would understand the inherent risks of being overly rigid, but nobody learns.
Par exemple; One sunny afternoon I was in excellent spirits because after having cut my way kitty corner across the Jardin des Tuleries to window shop along Rue saint Honoré, I’d overheard a woefully underqualified tour guide telling his group in English, using a thick Australian accent while gesturing towards the Musée d’Orsay across the park with a flourish;
“And over there is a museum. With lots of famous stuff in it… Like, paintings etc”.
While I couldn’t dispute his facts, something told me that he’d just made a lucky guess. Which for several blocks, had me chuckling to myself like a loose mental patient until I arrived at the corner of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue De l’Oratroire, where I observed a road rage incident unfolding before my eyes.
A bump between a motorcyclist the driver of a late model BMW M series was in the process of escalating from a verbal altercation into chest-thumping. Pedestrians began to gather and form a protective clot between the two antagonists which only provided them the courage to dial their insults and shouting up into clumsily thrown punches and spitting. I watched from the opposite sidewalk, just out of range from les combattants, who together with a handful of amateur peacemakers began to tumble around the intersection until at long last, the owner of the BMW bellowed “Ça suffit!” and stormed over to the trunk of his car, which was parked across two lanes of road and opened the trunk where he retrieved a hatchet, because apparently Parisian lumberjacks often drive BMW M4’s, and began to swing it around over his head like a Viking, while making a sound like my cat makes when I accidentally step on her foot.
I of course did what any red-blooded American man would do in such a situation. I took a big step backwards and said;
“Hey, whoah!” in a pretty loud voice, and it’s a good thing I did because my warning cry alerted a lone vigilante who was watching silently from a fifth floor apartment’s balcony and took the initiative to lob a single uncooked egg, into the midst of the melee which landed on the hood of the BMW with a dull, wet splat. It was so unexpected that every person who until then were engrossed in screaming, running and threatening to murder each other stopped what they were doing to crane their necks upwards in order to try to understand why eggs were falling out of the sky. It was then Paul Bunyan decided that perhaps he had dangerously overreacted and was attempting to stash his axe back into the trunk of his M4 when the police finally arrived and took him into custody.
I was unable to identify the mysterious vigilante who prevented the violent assault; but one thought struck me as the crowd began to disperse and the street returned to ordinary; If they were to ever outlaw eggs in this country, then surely, only outlaws would have eggs.