March 2015
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Hand model of perfidy


Maj has been taking French for almost three years now, and even though she never speaks it to me (I do not speak any French), she is doing very well in the class. She and I were driving the other day, and out of nowhere (as so often is the case with Maj), she says, “If I ever do travel to France, I’m just going to pretend I am deaf.”

I glance at her.  “What? Why would you do that?”

“Because,” she explains, “I am much better at writing and reading French than I am at speaking it, and I hate to look stupid. So I’ll just pretend I am deaf, and I will demand that they write everything down for me and I will write my responses as well.”

“Not every deaf person is mute, you know.”

She considers. “I’ll have to pretend to be mute, then. When no one’s listening, I will talk quietly to myself in English and tell myself little stories so as to safeguard my sanity.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a genius plan.”

“Mother, stop casting doubt on my dream’s fulfillment.”

“Your dream is to be a fake deaf-mute in France?”

“Whatever, Mother.”

“You’ll need a story about how you came to be deaf. It will have to be a tragic tale of some recent affliction or injury.”

“Why? I could have just been born deaf.”

“Yeah, but if you had been deaf for your entire life, you would likely have picked up a method of communicating other than writing.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, I don’t know … like sign language.”

She snorts. “Mother, unless the person with whom I am engaging is also deaf, there is almost zero chance I would be called upon to demonstrate my sign-language skills.”

“Except once you go around France announcing you are deaf, people are likely going to go out of their way to introduce you to the deaf people they know.” I turn to her. “What with all you would have in common and all.”

“Mother, this sort of thing is why I hate people.” She thinks for a moment. “Oh, I know. I’ll just make a little sign to hang around my neck that says — I don’t need your stupid deaf-mute fix-ups.”

“Yeah, that’s brilliant.”

“And I’ll make another sign that says — I am a hand model, and I cannot be chafing my valuable fingers against the air to satisfy your need for small talk.

“So your dream is to visit France as a condescending antisocial fake deaf-mute hand model.”

“Mother, it sounds more reasonable without the sarcasm.”

“Does it, though?”

She frowns. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I can be a deaf-mute person who reads lips! They won’t have to know that I am actually listening to what they are saying. They’ll just think I am a genius lip-reader! Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

“Although this plan would require you to be fairly adept at understanding the spoken language … in order to pull off this lip-reading ruse of yours.”

She throws herself back in her seat. “The French are nothing but trouble.”

“You know, part of learning a second language is dealing with the discomfort and potential embarrassment of actually trying to use that language.”

She sighs. “Possibly I am not that interested in going to France.”

I say nothing, and she turns to me. “Maybe I’ll just go to Canada … a part where they speak French … and pretend I got hit by a car and have amnesia and I am now magically American and speak perfect English even though just before the accident I was Canadian and spoke perfect French.”


“Mother, Canadians are gullible and fond of amnesia stories. Everyone knows this. Yes, this is the perfect plan.”

“You are insane.”

“All the best hand models are quite insane, Mother.”

And … scene.


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