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I had dinner the other evening with 17 Frenchmen and a pig. The meal was a festive affair and an experience to be savored over time. (It was a fairly large pig.)

The soiree was occasioned by a number of regular French visitors to Las Galeras who were slated to return to Marseilles. Fafa (Francoise) had organized a farewell pig roast to give them something to remember until their return.

Somehow or other I was invited, the only non-French participant except for the pig. I’m not sure how I made the cut–it’s certainly not my mastery of the French language, or most things French for that matter. Although, as it happens, I DO enjoy a good cheese and am very respectful of bread. But that’s about as far as it goes.

Fafa HAD seen me make a couple of pretty good jokes, none of which were in English, and so maybe guessed that I could hold my own with his crowd.

To help prepare for the challenge of being the only non-French speaking person there, a French friend in DC prepared some helpful phrases for me: “Good evening,” “How much does the pig weigh?” and “May I have a cup of coffee, please?”

I was also prepared for deeper stuff and so was able to discuss details of my recent activities: “I am painting our kitchen,” and “I washed the walls with the garden hose.” My companions were very thoughtful when given this news, perhaps attributing my preparation method to the superior techniques employed by a true professional. I think that they talked the strategy over among themselves later.

I did elect to not use one particularly charming topic that she had prepared for me, the rather impolitic, but unfortunately quite true: “I have a frog living in my toilet bowl.”

Given the prevailing demographic that evening, I elected to save the story of the grenouille for another time, perhaps for a different audience altogether.

The food was simple and wonderful. I would describe the conversation as energetic. These people have got to be conveying 4/5ths of what they mean with tone, inflection and facial expression, not to mention wild gestures and some serious body English applied to what I can only assume was the occasional well-turned phrase.

To a person, these folks had the most animated faces I’ve been around in many years. It was like a wonderful movie to just watch the exchanges play across their faces.

Since I can inflect and gesture we got along just fine, although the nuances of some of the conversation was admittedly over my head. Things like subjects and verbs, for example.

When all else failed I tried to look thoughtful, or fell back on the 3 most useful phrases in any language: “Please;” Thank-you;” and the companion to those 2: “Pardon me, will you speak more slowly?”

And then, after the postre’, we began to sing.

Like it was the most natural thing in the world. And I’m not talking lyrical or even melodic songs. We were all about rollicking, table thumping hootin’ and hollerin’ barrel house boogie, which I can also do.

A heretofore pretty quiet guy who looks remarkably like Mr. Magoo emerged as the chief instigator and de facto band leader. This fellow fully opened his eyes only when his face split in an ear-to-ear grin, which he did frequently in his role as maestro.

I droned along loudly as best I could, emphasizing the refrains if not the tunes, and kept pretty good time on the table. When I began to hit a syncopated beat I knew that I would be invited back.

That I could remember the words to Fre’re Jacques cemented the deal.

All of which has made me think about communication and language and the creation and conveyance of meaning and the nature of human cohesion and persuasion, again.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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