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Grammar Thugs

By Tory Hoen

Only in Paris do strange men feel entitled to correct your grammar while simultaneously accosting you in the middle of the sidewalk.

In the wee hours of last Saturday morning, I was traipsing through the streets of the Marais looking for that rare Parisian luxury—an empty cab. This is a recurring, if futile, exercise in my life here.

Suddenly I felt another familiar recurrence coming on. Ah yes, drunk guys. Two of them approached me and kind of hugged me and asked me where I was from. I said New York because it's an easy answer, it intimidates French people, and I also couldn’t remember where I was actually from. After some nonsensical banter, I decided to extricate myself from this little exchange by saying "je m’en va," after which I immediately realized I had used the incorrect form of the verb Aller. It was careless; I will admit. The drunk guys burst out laughing.

"Je m’en vais! I meant to say je m’en vais!" I promised meekly.

Wait a minute.

How did this turn from an attack by two sleazy guys into a lesson in verb conjugation? How had the formidable French language once again reduced me to a humble apologizer?

How French: drunken aggressors stop, mid-harassment, to hold the harassee grammatically accountable.

And the adventure continues.

P.S. The day before, a homeless man tried to kiss me on the mouth. Luckily the horror-squeal I made seemed to translate seamlessly enough, as there was no resulting grammar lesson from this particular vagrant. Success!

Tory Hoen's blog, A Moveable Beast, appears regularly on Gradspot.

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