I’ve taught theater all over the world, from India to California’s public high school system. I have always prided myself on using drama as a tool to help English Language Learners to communicate better. Theater is fun and kids love to get on stage so the fear of making a mistake decreases as the desire to engage increases. I’ve spent years studying methodology and improving my outreach to these students who need English to survive. Now I’m the one on the other side of the coin. I need French badly.
I never realized just how difficult it is to be in that survival situation until now.
Living in a country and not speaking the language makes even the most mundane tasks a scary adventure. Today I had to go to to the restaurant and get my official stagier (apprenticeship) papers signed. As usual, I got up, got dressed (thirty thousand times), poured myself a cup of coffee, and once again stared at my telephone. Do I call? Should I make an appointment? Should I just walk over? What if they’re really busy preparing lunch and I’m coming at the wrong time? What if I call and I can’t understand what they say back to me?
After much deliberation, I decided to call. I called twice and there was no answer. What a relief! My husband finally told me that I should just walk over. “You’re an actor, you’ll be fine! They’ll love you. You’re talented, you’re beautiful, they’re lucky to have you…” He gave me the get-off-your-butt-and-take-care-of-it speech with an ego boosting twist. It worked and I walked the scary three blocks wondering the whole time if I was making a big mistake.
Heart racing I paused before the restaurant and called my husband again for reassurance. I know, I know, I’m a big baby – but a three star michelin restaurant is nothing to scoff about. It’s the Broadway of Cuisine, the Shubert Theatre of gastronomy. I felt like I was going for an audition or callbacks. I felt like I wanted to throw-up!
Just as my husband picked up the phone and asked if everything was okay, I caught a chef crossing the street from the restaurant. I hung up quickly and stopped the chef and asked him if it’s possible to get my stagier papers signed. After a somewhat quizzical look he then took me to another chef who took me to another chef. I went from a storage space across the street to the actual restaurant itself to a tour of the kitchens to the offices of the restaurant and his lovely warm and friendly staff.
Along the route different chefs tried to speak with me and I mostly smiled and blushed furiously. I can’t help it. The older I get the more I blush. It’s terrible, but I’m afraid I wear my heart on my sleeve most of the time. I made some small talk, at least I think I did, but it’s hard to remember exactly what I said because my heart was pounding the whole time. Funny how nerves erase one’s memory.
The kitchen was cramped but cool! All the chefs are very young and hip and I was happily surprised by a few female faces. Now I just need to find the chef that speaks English and cling like saranwrap. There are eighteen cuisine cooks and eighteen pastry chefs. That’s a whole lot of specialized chefs for a kitchen about the size of my living room. I guess we’ll get to know each other real well.
I’m not sure how well I was received by the kitchen staff. I said, “Bonjour” and got a few long stares and some short “Bonjour’s” back. I think there was even a few chuckles from some of the guys. Maybe I’m reading into this, but I don’t think any of them thought I was chef material. Either that or they’re tired of non-french speaking American stagiers. Or maybe they were just concentrating. Or maybe, maybe, maybe…
Finally I was taken upstairs to the offices which are above his restaurant. The staff was unbelievably warm and friendly. Totally not what I was expecting. I was led to a room that was plastered with incredible photos of the famous owner/chef everywhere and his personal secretary greeted me and signed my stagier papers for him.
As I was leaving one of the other assistants gave me my schedule. She basically told me (in a really friendly way) to show up on the first day and the chef will see what level I’m at and base my schedule afterwards – that much I understood. As I was about to leave she stopped me and also said that my letter of motivation was the most unusual and well written they had ever received. (Gros bisous to my friend Marine, who helped in translating, otherwise I don’t think I would have got the position.)
I blushed again, thanked her many times, and ran home to tell my husband the good news. Yippeee!!! I’m an official stagier!!! Wo-ooo!!!