Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

On speaking Latin*

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Having as good of a memory as I have, it’s incredibly disappointing that I don’t remember the whole of one of the defining anecdotes of my life. I’ve thought about it so many times, trying to piece it together TV-crime-procedural style and I just can’t see the figurative smoking gun. But some facts remain.

The events took place on the very first day of junior high, when I was almost 12. It was in Mrs. S’s science class. My junior high was fed by four or five elementary schools so there was a range of proficiency and she wanted to see where we were at, academically. She was feeling us out and asking general questions to test our knowledge.

This is where my memory is tainted by the roar of blood rushing to my head, and things get a little blurry: I do remember that I was confident enough to raise my hand at one question she asked. I was, however, too dumb to realize that no one else had and that this simple act had a Social Implication. She called on me and I said REDACTED IN MY BRAIN, which was correct and she rocked back on her heels a little bit and asked me how I knew the answer. “It’s Latin,” I responded and Mrs. S was positively bemused. When pressed a little further about how an 11-year old in Flyoverville would know about Latin, I said the immortal words, “I speak Latin.”*

Mrs. S was a newer teacher and hadn’t heard of us before. “Us” here refers to my family which was known, some would say infamous, for many things, one of which was being too damn smart for our own good. Later that week, another teacher who had taught my older siblings and therefore “knew” about us said something to me in the halls like, “I heard you made quite an impression on Mrs. S. Can’t wait to see you in my class.”

I think the notoriety that my little Latin stunt brought me both with teachers and students is why I blacked out the crucial bit in my memory. The lesson I learned from it stayed with me forever though and it’s science-related to boot, basic Darwinism when you get down to it; if you stand out in a crowd, you’re likely to get called out. Sometimes, it’s best to just mingle with the plebs.

[*Of course, I didn’t then, nor do I now, speak Latin. But I knew about Latin and Latin roots to words and I knew that a language I did speak, Spanish, was Latin-based. I figured that was close enough and it was a much simpler answer than, “In my house, we talk about where words come from and often refer to a dictionary at the dinner table to settle linguistic questions.” I will also mention here that when I recounted this story to my mother later that day, she almost passed out from laughing so hard. “I speak Latin” continues to be used by my family as shorthand for “hubris”…which I know is Greek.]

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

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