The French Teacher (Story by Risa Peris)

He was quite unforgiving and relentless. “You must speak French. Do you hear me?” This was the rare time he spoke English.

He continued on in French. “Où êtes-vous né?”

I think I understood that. “Los Angeles.”

“Où habites-tu?”

“Boston, Massachusetts.”


I sighed. I looked at the time on my phone. I still had thirty minutes of class and was quickly running out of French words I knew. The teacher, a graduate student in English literature at Harvard who was also a Parisian native, born and bred, looked both aggressive and bored. There was a smell about him. A strong body odor. Musky, garlicky, and manly. His hair was medium length and slightly wavered under the air conditioning vent in the classroom. His eyes were large and blue while his lips were thin and red. I was twenty-four, in law school at Boston University, and was desperate to become fluent in French because I wanted to work for Amnesty International. I already knew Spanish and was eager to learn more languages. I had studied French for four years and still seemed highly deficient in the language. Maybe I wasn’t meant for languages. The thought made me want to cry.

Julian, my teacher, kept asking questions of me but his French was so fast and I had trouble understanding what he was asking. He pressed and pressed.

“Je ne sais pas,” I kept saying. Julian was flushing red. Was it anger? Or the humidity of a Massachusetts summer that leaked in from the window despite the air conditioning?

“Your skills are very low,” he said. I hung my head in shame and relief that finally, he was speaking English.

“I’m sorry. I’m trying.” I felt a big fat tear about to slide my cheek but I caught with my finger.

Julian saw it. “Don’t cry learning French. No one cries learning French.”

I nodded my head. I wondered if it would be easier learning French if I had a French lover or boyfriend. Then I could learn French in complete joy.

“Avez-vous des amis Julian?”

“I have friends,” he said in flat accented English.

“Oh, that’s nice.” There was no possible way to ask him about a hook-up.

The lesson ended and Julian said, “Au revoir.”

I waved back and thought of a personal ad I could place on dating websites. Looking for French Lover. Passionate Sex and Language Learning. Yes. Marvelous. I will learn French from a lover. Learning any language is an act of love. This is why teachers must be kind and patient. On the train to Boston, I gazed at the skyline and the Charles River. Yes. One day I would be fluent in French and I would have a lover to thank.

My phone buzzed. It was a text from Julian at the language school. “Voulez-vous du vin français?”

I hesitated. I thought of his odor. His hair. I thought of a pithy response in French but finally settled on, SURE, in all caps. I WILL HAVE WINE WITH YOU. Oh well, lovers don’t have to be perfect. Parfait. They need only be passionate. I blushed thinking of Julian being passionate.


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