Monday, October 6, 2008

The perils of acceptance

Last week my wife, in a moment of what I’ll politely term raving lunacy, generously volunteered me to be treasurer of the Montcabrier Parents’ Association. I am now responsible for a budget of a few thousand euros on behalf of the parents of 31 kids. And I am deeply stressed.

This should not be a big deal. As a former corporate lawyer I have been involved in multi-million dollar deals spread over a dozen countries. I’m no stranger to responsibility. Yet the weight of files handed over to me last night at our first meeting seems unbearable.

I suppose the financial responsibilities aren’t really what’s getting me. I’ll need to keep the books, write a few checks, and file receipts – all tasks I think I can manage. But there are other issues. One is language. I can hold my own just fine in a one-on-one conversation in French, so long as I don’t have to stumble over fast-spoken Parisian slang or the heavily-accented and patois-ridden mutterings of some of the local farmers. The problem is that last night they were not speaking French. They were speaking Loto.

The Loto, as I discovered when I attended one a few years ago in quest of local color, is more or less Bingo night. I’m a 38-year-old lawyer. I don’t do Bingo in any language. To me, “double quine” sounds more like a treatment for malaria than a game. But one of my jobs is to help select suitable prizes for this “double quine” thing as well as for the “carton plein,” which translates somewhat unhelpfully as “full box.” I am, quite frankly, out of my depth.

And yet the real problem is deeper than that. Ever since we moved here three years ago, we have endured the uncomfortable feeling that we didn’t quite follow what was going on around us. That is one of the stresses - and the joys - of living abroad. But this week it has become personal. I have been given the trust of my fellow villagers and fellow parents. They have opened a door and invited me in, and suddenly I can no longer smile and pretend to understand what’s going on.

It is not so much the fear of inadequacy that haunts me, but the burden of acceptance. This is a good problem to have. I’ll have to remind myself of that next month on Loto night – I’ve also been chosen to call out the numbers.

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