French Survival Guide Part II

Trip Start Jul 05, 2006
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Trip End Jul 26, 2006


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In lesson one of the French Survival Guide, we introduced the magical concept of the "Je ne sais pas." The second lesson in the guide should be used in situations that can best be described as "When all else fails..." As many Foreign Language Learners (FLL) know, some moments call for a hasty yet poised retreat, best known as "The Duck and Dodge."

Lesson Two: The Duck and Dodge
Consider the following scenario:
Two FLLs enter an elevator at a parking garage with two Native French Speakers (NFS). (And as all good students of French 101 know, this is not an easy fit, as most elevators are half of the size of the average linen closet in America.) The NFSs have already pressed the button for floor 11. The FLLs would like to go to floor 10, but being a French elevator, for some inexplicable reason it only stops on odd numbered floors. For another inexplicable reason, an FLL presses the 9th floor intending to walk up one flight. (We shall leave the question of "Why didn't she just get off at 11 with the NFSs and walk down one flight?" for a more reasonable conversation.) As the doors open, the first FLL wedged closest to the door sees only a 4 on the wall, and steps aside politely to allow the NFSs to depart. They, however, stare blankly like cows chewing cud. The NFS attempts a very brave thing. She gives an arched eyebrow "Non?" in their general direction. The situation then turns ugly. One NFS responds with "aoiuwheknfdgvnbuauiayjxnaanvlakjweriuyfiuhgf neuf? Voila neuf?" and points at the large 9 painted on the opposing wall (which to be fair to the befuddled FLL was partially obscured by the cursed elevator door.) Clearly what the NFS has questioned was, "You did press the 9th floor, didn't you? This is 9." Such a predicament constitutes a French Emergency (FE) for a number of reasons. The most important reason is this: Clearly the First Lesson, "Je ne sais pas" cannot be employed without the FLL looking either idiotic or just outright demented since she was indeed the person who pressed floor 9. A new plan must be developed and quickly...

Step One: The Duck Sometimes the most advantageous course of action is a simple course of action perhaps best expressed in the immortal words of Monty Python: Run away. Run away. Most FLLs will be relieved to know that this step requires absolutely no second language skills. To effectively use this step, one must simply identify the most convenient direction of escape and go there. Do not worry about looking flustered, confused, rushed, or even panicked. Even if a NFS volleys a string of verbal abuses at an FLL's cowardly back, the Editors of the French Survival Guide will wager a 100% money-back guarantee that the FLL will never know what they have said.

Let us now check in on our real-life scenario to witness a Duck in progress:
The FLLs exit the elevator (with a few partial shreds of dignity attached) and quickly move up the stairs to the next floor. Unfortunately, instead of spying the relative safety of their car, they are shocked to see a large number 11 painted on the wall, and the villainous elevator door slide open to reveal the moving shoe, then ankle, then shin, then knee of the snobbish (yet truthful) NFS. In just milliseconds, the true stupidity of the FLLs will be revealed to the omniscient NFSs: Floor 9 actually exits in the middle of the ramp between floors 9 and 10, and by going up the stairs, the naive FLLs have wandered to the very next stop on the elevator's journey: Floor 11. To encounter the NFSs now would be to serve up the dregs of utter humiliation. Clearly The Duck has failed. What next???

Step One: The Dodge If The Duck does not completely remove one from a dire situation, more evasive actions may be called for. The Dodge is, quite simply, just The Duck with all sense of personal dignity removed. The Dodge calls for a forceful and massive retreat, whether that means running for one's life, hiding behind parked cars, abandoning small children, or even leaving a meal of rare polar bear liver uneaten. In The Dodge, we urge our readers to care about nothing but avoiding, at all costs, an NFS. Prior to encountering a situation worthy of The Dodge, one may draw a parallel between the emotions precipitating a Dodge with the emotions one would experience when trapped in a burning building. Again, the Editors of the French Survival Guide propose a 100% money-back guarantee that the FLL will experience a rush of sheer fear and life-saving adrenaline which will make the Dodge possible, nay, instinctual when necessary.

Let's see The Dodge in action:
The first FLL perceives the imminent danger of their precarious position and initiates The Dodge. She pushes her fellow FLL back down the stairs, disregarding his yelps of pain and confusion in favor of ensuring their ultimate survival. Certain that the NFSs have spied their faux-pas, they break into an all out sprint through the echoing parking garage (barely noting through the haze of adrenaline that a jovial classical tune tinkles from strategically placed speakers throughout the garage) and crouch breathless and sweating behind the rear wheel tire of their car. When they can breathe somewhat normally, they get into the car, slowly back out, and pull toward the exit ramp just as the NFSs in question swing around the corner from the preceding floor. Realizing that both The Duck and The Dodge have ultimately failed to shake the NFSs from their tail, the FLL contingency decides that they must take the final course of action available to them: admit defeat. They shrink yet lower (is it possible) in their seats and graciously allow the NFSs to pull in front of them to the exit.
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