Madeleine is Clémence’s older sister, an outspoken 26-year-old who takes it upon herself to teach me all the dirty words I never learned in my American French classes. C’est très important, ton éducation! she tells me soon after my arrival. I agree wholeheartedly.
It becomes a tradition for she, Clémence, Pauline and I to giggle around the table each night as they teach me things like how to tell people to fuck off in three different ways and a variety of tenses. I copy everything down into the little notebook I carry with me everywhere—Roger calls me l’écrivaine, the writer, as I am constantly scribbling away in it, trying to record every detail of Normandie. Apart from a journal, I use it for making lists of the new words I hear. By the end of the visit it is full of my looping sentences, spelling out phrases that, were I to leave my notebook sitting open on the kitchen table, would probably not be what Roger was expecting to find.
After a month under Madeleine’s tutelage, I am speaking grammatically incorrect, slang-ridden French. It makes for easier conversation with Clémence’s friends, but the transition back to Advanced Placement French in Ohio is something of a culture shock. When I incorporate my new vocabulary into an essay on what I did over the summer, the teacher takes away a point for each use of slangy verlan or argot, even though that’s the kind of French that most people in France actually speak.
It’s the worst grade I’ve gotten on a French assignment since I started studying the language years before, but I don’t mind. Each red X reminds me of the stamps in my passport from Charles de Gaulle airport, hard proof that I went somewhere and changed because of it.