A True Co-worker

As my year as an English Teaching Assistant at a high school in suburban Paris progressed and my French language skills grew stronger, my fellow teachers, all native French speakers, became friends I genuinely looked forward to seeing each day. Conversations with these co-workers became less intimidating, and we developed a rapport similar to most office environments. We would recognize each other in the hallways, often exchanging a “Salut, ça va?,” meaning “Hello, how are you?” And we’d chat about weather while waiting for a cappuccino at the coffee machine in the faculty lounge, or share our reviews of the latest American movie we’d seen (I found that the French love American movies, and most of them are equally as popular as French movies).

A Weekly Ritual

Ali, a math teacher from Morocco who referred to himself as “the joker” among the staff, often boasted about his badminton skills. After classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Ali and several other teachers would meet for a casual game of badminton. The teachers would refer to these evenings as “faire du sport.” The literal English translation for this is “make or do some sport.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday, they’d ask me if I was going to “faire du sport” with them. So one Tuesday in February, after weeks of persuasion from Ali, Khalid, an English teacher, and a science teacher, Abbas, who had traveled throughout much of the United States and had a keen interest in learning English, I decided to stay for faire du sport.

My Attempt at Faire du Sport

Once the final bell for the school day rang, I changed into this random combination of gym clothes I’d managed to throw together as I’d rushed out of my apartment that morning, and met Ali in the gymnasium behind the main building of the school.
Ali, dressed in a blue and white striped polo and crisp khaki shorts with sneakers, was setting up a badminton net in one of the carved-out areas of the gym. “Hello!” he shouted. When the net was secure, he rushed by me, grabbed a few birdies (which I learned is “volant” in French) and rackets, and we started to play.

We started with his shouting, “un, deux, trois…commence!” As I realized that I had forgotten how to serve, the volant was already sailing over the net, heading directly for my face. I swung my racket and…swoosh. Nothing but dead air and the sound of the volant hitting the gym floor. I had missed.

“C’est pas grave! Encore!” he said. Which in English means, “It’s no big deal! Try again!”
I swung my racket back, lightly tossing the volant into the air, and…swoosh. I missed again. We played like this for quite some time, until Abbas showed up still dressed in work clothes and asked to join us.

Abbas and I were on one team, and Ali was on the other team. Abbas saved most of our returns, but I managed to land a few on the other side of the net and was improving overall. Throughout the entire game, I heard shouts of “bien!” and “bravo!” and “encore!”

A school groundskeeper in green coveralls shuffled by and shouted, “Cette équipe est la meilleure!” and pointed at Ali. In English this means, “This team is the best!” Abbas showed his support for me by shouting words of encouragement in English.
We played three games, with my team winning one and the other team winning two, until I had to leave for a meeting in Paris and Abbas had to leave for a meeting with a parent at the school.

Toasting a Victory

As we folded the badminton net and turned around, Ali immediately unveiled a six-pack of beer and some assorted cans of soda. Abbas and I followed him to the trampoline in the other room, where the two Frenchmen enjoyed a few victory drinks. Feeling too uncomfortable to stay and drink alcohol with coworkers in the school gym, I told them I would join them the next time, as I had some badminton skills to work on.