Humor Learning French in Prison

Humor Learning French in Prison is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn French.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter The Man in the Hut, in the book ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, page 186-187:


“Though harsh in other respects, prison would be an excellent place to learn a foreign language—total immersion

and you’d have the new slang before it even hit the streets.

Unlike the French school that I actually attended, this one, when it came to verbs, would likely start with the imperative (in French):

‘Bend over.’

‘Take it.’

That kind of thing.


Still, though, you’d have your little conversations.

In the cafeteria, in the recreation room or crafts center, if they have them in a French prison, and I imagine they do.

‘Tell me, Jean-Claude, do you like the glaze I’ve applied to my shapely jug?’

Of the above, I can say (in French),

‘Tell me, Jean-Claude, do you like the... jug?’

‘Glaze’ is one of those words that shouldn’t be too difficult to learn, and the same goes for ‘shapely.’ I’m pretty good when it comes to retaining nouns and adjectives,

but the bit about applying the glaze to the shapely jug—that’s where I tend to stumble.

In English, it’s easy enough – ‘I put this on that’ –

but in French, such things have a way of biting you in the ass. I might have to say, (in French)

‘Do you like the glaze the shapely jug accepted from me?’


‘Do you like the shapely jug in the glaze of which I earlier applied?’

For safety’s sake, perhaps I’d be better off breaking the one sentence into three:

‘Look at the shapely jug.’

‘Do you like the glaze?’

‘I did that.’


If I spent as much time speaking to my neighbors (in French) as I do practicing imaginary conversations in the prison crafts center, I’d be fluent by now and could quit making excuses for myself.


Link to buy humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, from





Humor of David Sedaris in his book 'Me Talk Pretty One Day':

Humor of Two Types of French.

Humor of Knowing Only a Few Words of French.

Humors of Male and Female Genders in French.

Humor of Language Tapes in French.

Humor of Vocabulary Cards in French.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is the Humor of French Class in Paris.

Humor of Giving Up on French School.

Humor of Not Understanding French.

Humor of Difficulty Speaking French.

Humor of Living in France for Many Years.

Return to Humor of Language Learners.


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