COLLEGE ESSAY: Holly Dayton to attend Stanford

Holly Dayton

By Holly Dayton ’13, Section Editor of the Lens

My footsteps were quiet but my heartbeat thunderous as I crossed the bridge over the Doubs. What was I going to say to my sister’s French friends? It wasn’t that I was worried about having nothing in common with them; it was just that I was terrified of using my French with actual French people. Six years of classroom education somehow didn’t seem like quite enough for a real interaction— with real natives.

My family was spending Christmas visiting Lauren in Besançon, France where she was teaching English. On the evening in question, Lauren had invited my brother Trey and me to the classy local brasserie to meet her friends. It was the best opportunity I would have on the trip to use my French in a conversational setting. But fulfilling six years of preparation in one night is a daunting task, and, just to be clear, a bar is definitely not my scene.

We covered the important questions on the walk from the hotel: whether we use tu or vous and whether we say “salut” when we meet them or if we do les bises. But I still wasn’t feeling much better when we arrived. The first few people I met were large college guys I was too intimidated to kiss on the cheek, let alone speak to. That was fine, though, because they did plenty of talking. From my seat in the corner I watched them drinking and chatting like, well, Frenchmen, and painfully felt my own American-ness. When I lowered my gaze I noticed my hands— they were mottled pink and white from strangling the petite bière Lauren had bought me.

But, as more people arrived, and we moved from the overcrowded loft where we had gathered to a table downstairs, my grip relaxed. These complete strangers seemed much friendlier in the full light. With Trey on one side of me and Severine, an older woman, on the other, I felt downright courageous. I took a breath, turned to my right and without checking to see if Severine was even looking at me said, “Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans la vie?”

Quoi?” she responded, turning her head and fixing her blue eyes on me kindly. I don’t think she had really noticed my presence until that moment. Losing confidence, I managed the words, “Que fais-tu Madame, c’est quoi ton travail?”

Smiling, Severine told me that she used to be a professor of music at the local university, but that she since had retired and now gave piano lessons from home. So she did music, I breathed to myself in relief. I could talk about music. Sentences formed themselves on my tongue, complex subjunctive phrases and si hypothèses, and I let them go without thinking too much about grammar. By the time the glasses were empty, conversation flagged and the group broke up, Severine and I had

been talking for a full hour— entirely in French. Pas mal du tout.