Friday, 3 May 2013

Les Grandes Personnes Ne Comprennent Jamais Rien Toutes Seules

Qu'est-ce que c'est ça?

After the passage of quite a few weeks - months, actually - finally got the word that my job assignment has cleared all of the internal hurdles.  So this summer, we will be heading off for three years in Paris, France,  At the announcement in our internal team meeting yesterday, my superior thanked me for my patience and described the process as akin to a root canal.  I remarked that it was more like giving birth, in that the process delivered a tangible result at the end after much strain, and at seven months, would have been only a slightly premature baby.

My sister-in-law, knowing somewhat ahead of time, of the news, sent our seven year old a copy of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic Le Petit Prince.  It's a fun story, and interestingly, one of the very first French-language books I read, about 30 or so years ago.  The story opens with the author describing his early days and the frustrations a small child feels in negotiating the adult world.

In the opening chapter, St Exupéry details how, upon reading in a book the story of a snake swallowing its meal whole, and then over the course of six months, sleeping as it digests its unfortunate prey, makes his first drawing.  Proud of his work, he shows it to the adults in his life.

J'ai alors beaucoup réfléchi sur les aventures de la jungle et, à mon tour, j'ai réussi, avec un crayon de couleur, à tracer mon premier dessin. Mon dessin numéro 1. Il était comme ça. J'ai montré mon chef d'œuvre aux grandes personnes et je leur ai demandé si mon dessin leur faisait peur. Elles m'ont répondu: "Pourquoi un chapeau ferait-il peur?"
In English (excuse my decades-old French skills)
I thought for a long time about adventures in the jungle, and then, using a coloured pencil, I made my first drawing; drawing number one.  It looked like this.  I showed my masterpiece to the adults, and asked them if my drawing frightened them.  They all responded, "Why would a hat scare me?"
St Exupéry reflected thusly, that grown ups never understand anything by themselves, and that they always need children to explain, which is difficult, tiring.  Later, he extends this thought with the reflexion that we all were young once, but very few of us remember what it was like.  

In one of my favourite quotes from the book:
Toutes les grandes personnes ont d'abord été des enfants. Mais peu d'entre elles s'en souviennent.
I'm now reading Le Petit Prince to my son, and it's interesting to hear his reactions to it.  He doesn't speak more than a few words of French, so I do my best to translate for him, and he seems to like the story.  

As we prepare for our experience in Paris, with the excitement of a new job (for me), and a new country and culture (for all of us), it will be interesting to keep this in mind.  Alastair, a small child for which much of the world is still relatively new, will have reactions to the experiences than we will.

In the story, the "hat" that big people see is, in fact, an elephant entombed within a boa constrictor.

C'est un éléphant qui se trouvé
dans un serpent boa
I hope I can keep in mind that some of what he sees will be a hat, and some will be an elephant inside a snake.

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