Madame Perruque was on fire this week.
We were continuing our critiques of magazine ads and Juliet, an impossibly tall, thin, Cuban woman – who looked like she had just breezed off the pages of Cosmopolitan herself – made her way to the front of the class.
Her choice was a steamy, full page ad for a Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Le Beau Male” cologne and Madame Perruque was overjoyed.
“J’accept!” she said and clapped her hands when she saw the image. She explained that this was good because we could talk about L’objet sexuel masculine.
Juliet began describing the image, telling us that there was a man sitting on a polar bear skin rug with deeply tanned skin and tattoos.
She continued, saying that because the color scheme was blue rather than red, the ad was not meant to indicate love.
Part way through this thought, Madame slammed her hand down on the table “No! pas parce que! Tu est une bébé? Ca ca pi pi?”
Juliet, stopped talking and confusion descended over her flawless face. In fact, all of us sat quietly, startled by the outburst.
She seemed to have an aversion to the use of the word “parce que” (because).
Maybe in all of her years of teaching foreigners French she had reached her saturation point. But “because” seemed like the most inoffensive of words, and her annoyance was lost on me.
“Pas parce que!” She continued, still visibly upset. “Car! Car est meilleur.”
Juliet resumed her presentation substituting the word “car” for “parce que”. And that seemed to satisfy the professor.
Madame turned to the class and asked us what the text “Jean Paul Gaultier” on the bottom of the page meant.
A student in the front row raised her hand and offered that he was an Italian designer.
I thought Madame Perruque’s head was going to pop right off.
“No!” she spat back, eyes downcast, shaking her head with disappointment and a hint of destain.
Stunned into momentary silence, no one spoke. Then from the back of the room, Svetlana, a calm and collected Polish student with severe highlights and a strong accent spoke up.
“C’est une marque.” (It’s a brand).
“Un mac!? Jean Paul Gaultier est un mac!?” Madame was off and running. “He has a big car and prostitutes?
Svetlana was not impressed. “Une marque.” she repeated. “C’est une grande marque.”
But Madame Perruque wasn’t listening. She went off on a little rant explaining that mac is slang for souteneur (pimp) and if you call Jean Paul Gaultier a pimp you will be sued for defamation.
Her point about the importance of pronunciation was largely lost on the class, but she wasn’t deterred.
She asked what else we saw in the ad. “The man is naked.” someone remarked. “He has a striped shirt over his shoulder.” Another student offered.
“Yes, and where is the bear’s head?” she asked.
In the ad, the man was sitting on a polar bear skin rug, with the bear’s head, and his own tanned arm just barely blocking his crotch.
Not a peep emerged from behind the desks. After a few too many moments of deafening silence, I spoke up.
“Strategically placed.” I said.
Not the answer she was after. “but what is it covering?”
Nothing from the class.
“Vous êtes Prudes!” she blurted out. “Vous êtes prudes!”
Nervous laughter spread around the room, and then young Roland, perhaps buoyed by his moment in the spotlight the previous week said: “le pénis?”
A wide, red lipped, smile spread over Madame’s face. “Yes, le pénis. But you are not babies are you? Ca ca pi pi?” she repeated.
“you don’t use le pénis, it’s le sex.” she said definitively. “The bear’s head is covering the sex.”
Then she walked over to the whiteboard and spelled out the word PHALLUS in large red letters.
“Faa -Loos.” She enunciated the word slowly, putting emphasis on the second syllable. She repeated the word and urged us to do the same.
Thankfully, we had reached the halfway mark and we filed out of the room for a coffee break.
I was waiting in line at the vending machine when Svetlana came up behind me. We exchanged knowing smiles and took our plastic cups of bitter, milky coffee into the hallway.
“She likes to talk about sex.” Svetlana said shaking her head in disapproval. I nodded.
“I think it interests her very much.” she added.
Back in class, after talking about the cologne ad for nearly two hours, I thought we had pretty much exhausted all discussion topics, but Madame Perruque was far from finished.
“What does the bear represent?” She asked us.
Unsure of where she was going with this, I looked around the room. We were stumped.
The bear, she explained, was the symbol for gay people.
This seemed to be going down an odd path.
I raised my hand. “I thought the rainbow flag was the gay symbol.” I said.
“Yes, the rainbow flag is the symbol for inclusion, but the bear is the symbol for closeted gay men.”
Hm… As much as I love a good discussion, and a chance to learn new vocabulary words, It seemed like we had gotten pretty far off track.
But after nearly two months in her classroom, I knew better than to argue.