Teaching a taste of French in Japanese

Today I had a personal encounter with the people who are responsible for making such delicious French pastries all over Japan. First let me back up and set the mood that I was in when I made the encounter.

I taught swimming lessons to two boys who will be going on the 2nd year students' trip to a wilderness island in the Inland Sea of Japan. The PE teachers needed extra help, so they called in "the ringer": me. I don't know about that, but I've offered my swimming expertise on previous occaisions, so I'm happy to help. It's something familiar to me. The boys are also my students in class, so they were comfortable with my voice and use of English. Swimming is a physical skill, so it is easy to mimic and one doesn't need to speak the language of instruction fluently to get the point across. I went over the basics until I found their weak points, then taught to those. After an hour, we got out and changed. There are few better feelings than air-drying off on the pool deck during a 90ºF (32ºC) day. Riding this natural high, I set off for the mall. Where else?;)

I had to buy some books for my English class at the book store. After that, I took a moment to read my free reading book on the deli/restaurant floor of the mall. I bought a milk tea and sandwiche au jambon. Eating the factory sliced bread day in and out sure does numb the memory of what freshly baked bread tastes like. The sandwiche was delicious. As I read, I could hear two girls attempting to count to twenty in French. "I wonder what that's about" I asked myself.

Then I remembered what my friend Nathan told me when I visited him in Mie-ken. Well-off Japanese parents send their children to Paris to learn the secrets of pastry baking. They bring their skills back to Japan and open their own patisserie. Maybe that's what thhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifeir up to.

On my way out, I asked them in Japanese if they were practicing French. They eagerly told me to sit down and invited me to pronounce some words for them. Their exercises consisted of food vocabulary, recipe instructions, and measurements. Yep, these women are going to Paris. They were amazed at the difficult phonemes such as the trilled and swallowed "r" and the vowel clusters that has one's tongue doing pilates to pronounce half a word.

Halfway through my lesson I admitted that I was an American, not French, and the women were even more surprised. At that point I realized that I had arrived as a multi-lingual: I was teaching my third language using my sixth language. Even using Japanese grammatical terms to explain French grammar. Phew! Maybe I wasn't too clear on somethings, but they seemed like they were less confused than when we began. After half an hour, I excused myself to go home, but not before I gave them my contact information if they had anymore questions.

What I should have done was to request a free pastry upon their return from France for my services rendered!

To me, French patisseries in Japan are a reflection of the Japanese value for experiencing and emulating the best with attention to detail. But don't think this is being done while they abandon their own cuisine. Japanese sweets and culinary treats abound here. I just can't find their chefs as easily as hearing French in the cafeteria! Genki de!

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