In French hell (note: location not in France)

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Where I’m at: Arlington, VA at FSI (t-minus 10 days…maybe)

What I’m doing: getting ready to head back to French class

Why I’m posting: getting back to what this blog was all about


I’ll grudgingly admit that this blog/blawg is not the center of your universe (though it may literally be if we ever move to our new home on the Equator…and you also still believe that the Earth is the center of the universe). In fact, it’s probably not more than a passing curiosity where you wonder, “Hmm, I wonder if DeMark fell in any holes today.” Happily, I have not. On the other hand, I have fallen into a trap, which is that I’ve often made this blog more of a sounding board for my frustrations than an update as to my/our locations and lives. And while I’d like to continue to post things that I hope you’ll (continue to?) find interesting and thought-provoking, I would like to keep presenting to you the life of a stateside diplomat and ultimately the life of a non-stateside diplomat. I’m guessing that for those readers that have come from the State Department’s website, that’s probably more interesting. And I’m certain that for my family and friends – already “privy” to my particular slanted views – it will definitely be more interesting. At least from time to time.

Thus, I return to the subject of my daily struggle: French. Just to update you, I’ve been studying French at the Foreign Service Institute for 29 weeks now (with a 10.5 week break between weeks 22 and 23). In using your tax dollars to buy enough candy bars and pop to get through the day, I’ve theoretically been better preparing myself to serve the taxpayers’ interests in the Republic of Congo.  I know, I know…too many immediate foreign policy and economic interests to name. But honestly, it is and will become more of an important area for the region as time passes, and it really is very much in the U.S.’s interest to send highly-trained, nearly French-fluent diplomats such as myself. I promise (you may have to trust me on this one if, for instance, you don’t know where Congo is).

If only they’d let me! You see, I’m essentially languishing in Arlington being trained to pass a French exam which I’m already qualified to pass (if you believe my professors, who speak with me on a daily basis in French). But the exam is a pressure-packed, extremely-short cross-section of one’s overall speaking and reading ability. I’ll spare you (and mostly myself…since it could come back to haunt me) the frustrations I have with any particular department, examiner, etc. But I do find it somewhat amazing that we’re willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars per person training him/her in a language and then only provide a few minutes to show evidence of that learning. For those brilliant English scholars among us, could you show your thorough knowledge of English vocabulary, grammar, idiomatic expressions, and cultural references in a 7 minute speech that you had 5 minutes to prepare for? Anyway, that’s what we have to do in our designated languages.

Of course, I’m not giving an entirely fair assessment of the situation because I’m frustrated. I failed to show the Department my French speaking ability at the end of last month, and as a result, have spent another month refining my French. Honestly, it really has helped. But I’m set to take the exam again on Wednesday, and I fear that circumstances may once again delay my departure. I hope not. But in either case, my use of words like “hell,” “languish,” and the plenitude of sarcastic or angry remarks about the test or French in general are probably good background for understanding the frustration or jubilance you’ll see in the exclamation points of what will probably be my next post (and hopefully last post stateside for awhile).

So there it is. Back to the facts of what it’s like to live and feel like a diplomat. And hopefully, soon to the joys and excitement of living that life abroad. (note: not as “a broad,” but rather not in America).


Who said it: Lamartine

Why it’s relevant: because I’m rarely quiet

The quote: “Les grandes doulours sont muettes” (the greatest pains are silent)


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