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Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Don't Know

Because my guardians wanted it that way, and because they were footing the bill, when I began my college education it was at a Community College. These are also commonly called Junior Colleges or two-year-program colleges. Whatever you call them, they are filled with an interesting mix of students. I rather enjoyed, when I started classes there, being with students who ranged in age from my teens to grandparents. There were parents going back to school, and people who were working hard to get through school while supporting themselves, as well as people from various countries.

One of my favorite fellow students was a delightful older woman who was from France. She had a lovely accent, which I think may have drawn me to be friendly with her. Or it could be that her accent reminded me of the wonderful French actor Charles Boyer, who knows? Seriously, though, I imagine it has something to do with spending the first several years of my life surrounded by adults who all had different accents. My parents, obviously, since they were Hungarians who also spoke German and English. The owners of the duplex in which we lived were German, and the neighborhood was a veritable United Nations. Within less than half a block there were Chinese, Irish, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. 

So when I met this Frenchwoman, I'll call her Jeanne, in my History class, we became friendly very quickly. Sometimes I would ask her what the French names were for various things, and I have to admit that when she called the Xerox machine la machine, for example, it just sounded so lovely. I had an experience when asking her what a French phrase meant that gave me a great opportunity to embarrass myself, though. Everyone's got to have some sort of talent, right? At times, I've thought putting my foot in my mouth was one of mine. Let's see what you think.

One day after classes, I had gone home and read part of Gram's Reader's Digest magazine which had come in the mail that week. There was a section of the magazine that had funny stories and jokes. As usual, this was one of the first sections I read. This particular story was about someone's trip to Paris. He went into the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is absolutely enormous. If you're not familiar with cathedrals, they are often shaped like a cross. Each part of the cross is large enough to be an individual chapel, so it's possible for there to be many types of services all going on at the same time. In this story, a man had exactly that sort of experience. He went into one chapel and there was a baby being baptized. He asked someone who the baby was, and was told, "Je ne sais pas." In the next chapel, there was a wedding. Again, he asked someone who was being married, and was told, "Je ne sais pas." He made his way into a third chapel, where there was a funeral in process. When he asked whose funeral it was, he was again told, "Je ne sais pas." He replied, "Wow, he didn't last very long, did he?"

Now, for most people, it would be enough to just laugh at the man for not speaking any French and thinking that je ne sais pas was a name. But not for Katrina. Yes, I knew that the story was funny, but I just had to know what je ne sais pas meant. You never know, it might have made the story even funnier. So the next day before History class, I had to find out from my friend Jeanne. I told her that I had read a story that used the line je ne sais pas, and could she tell me what it meant, please? When she replied, "I don't know," apparently my brain was not firing on all cylinders. "But, Jeanne, you're French," I answered. "Why don't you know?" Jeanne was very patient with me and explained that je ne sais pas meant I don't know. Needless to say, I felt about as brilliant as the person in the original story. I managed to laugh at myself about it, because I realized that everyone can answer questions differently. And I guess it's always good for me to be reminded that there's a lot that je ne sais pas!