The most unexpected letter I ever received in my life landed in my letterbox during the winter of 1983. The first thing that caught my attention was the American stamp on the envelope. Uh?
Inside was a letter in French from a young American girl. Uh?
She was a student in French and asked me how the French did celebrate on the third or fourth of January (that wasn't her precise wording of course).
Now this happened nearly thirty years ago and I don't precisely remember the details but I eventually found out - and maybe did she explain it in her letter- that her teacher (for some reason I imagine she had a female teacher) asked the students to pick up names randomly (probably in a phone book) and send letters to the French people whose names and adresses they would have found. And I was at the receiving end...
Needless to say I answered the girl, don't remember her name, about the Galettes des rois (that's how I remember it was during the winter) and congratulated her etc.
And I couldn't help thinking that was a brave move by the teacher (and an extremely positive and pedagogical one at that) that I considered at that time, and still do now, so symbolic of what is usually considered the American mindset at its best.
I explain: Here are the notions of taking risk, being open minded, taking initiative, going outside of one's own little world and, aptly, making contact with people speaking the language the teenagers were learning.
I mean, what where the chances, that all letters would arrive by curious and interested French people who would take the pain to answer? Did all the students receive an answer? Not counting the addresses that weren't valid any more etc. So I imagined the teacher asked the students to write two letters just in case, 'cos it would have been so devastating for one or two of them not to get any letter back from France.
Now, I admit I was impressed by the pedagogical skills of the teacher and I sort of remember I asked the girl to congratulate her for her bright idea, just a bit worried that she may not receive my letter, stuff happens...
And then what happened will you ask? Well, I kept the letter of the girl for some months? Some years? Until I eventually lost trace of it, maybe during the time I spent in London between 1984 and 1985, but at the end of the day I was unable to possibly write her another letter.
That could have been the end of the story but not quite so.
Since I never forgot this episode, in the first months I had a computer (2003) I sent an email to the American association of teachers of French with the vague hope they could locate the teacher (by then, 2003, I think I still had a confused idea the letter was from the East Cost). To no avail alas, I never had any mail back, be it just to inform me they had received my query. Fair to say, twenty years had already elapsed betwen the day I received the winter letter and the day I wrote to the association. I could try again but it's been nearly thirty years now...
Thirty years... sigh... By now Isabelle must be 45, have married and mothered two or three puppies...
Now, Isabelle, is that you calling after me?