Who Offers Health Breaks?

I really suck at analyzing texts, it seems. For a long time, I’ve been preparing for my philosophy conference. We only get funding to visit one conference during this protracted budget crisis, so conferences have to be picked carefully. I’ve been dying to branch out into philosophy for a while. The Spanish philosopher whose work I discuss in my presentation will be at the conference, and I really wanted to listen to him, ask questions, and make an impression.

The conference committee took forever to send us a program. So I only discovered the horrible truth about this conference today when I finally received the program.

There had been hints, though. I could have guessed if only I’d paid attention. I got a pre-registration e-mail a while ago, which said that the registration fees would cover the reception, the lunch buffet, and health breaks.

Got it? Health breaks. I should have known right then and there. Who the hell offers health breaks? English-speakers give you coffee breaks. Spanish-speakers offer cigarette breaks. Only the French-speakers, may God be kind to them and their Mamma, schedule health breaks instead.

So finally I get the program of the conference, and as you must have guessed by now, it is in French. The entire flapping conference is in French. Except the talks by yours truly and a scholar from British Columbia. The opening and closing remarks, all but two of the talks, the presentation by the philosopher himself – everything is in French. The philosopher will present a new edition of his most recent book. Translated into French. And during the five years I lived in Quebec, I lost my spoken French completely. I will not be able to understand a word spoken at that conference. Unless it is spoken by me and the fellow sufferer from British Columbia.

The most annoying thing is that the conference’s title is in English, the promotional materials and the call for papers were in English, the conference takes place in Ottawa, and the organizer’s name is Spanish. Of course, the call for papers did say, “Papers will be accepted in English, French, and Spanish.” But we are talking about Canada, so I thought that this was simply the question of both official languages making it to the list.

And now I will feel like a total idiot, sitting there, listening to talks that I can’t even understand. Imagine what will happen if somebody starts asking me questions in French. That is going to be embarrassing.

Câlice de crisse de tabarnak d’ostie de ciboire du saint-sacement!! Tabarnak!!

17 thoughts on “Who Offers Health Breaks?

  1. You can always retract your paper. My group has done that a couple of times. It’s not ideal but would save you the money and the frustration.


  2. Oh well… I feel your pain but I cannot help but smile. Sorry! You are trapped in a linguistic imbroglio the same way I was trapped in when that famous Argentinian professor complained about my lack of knowledge of the French language.

    Maybe the organizers of the conference received too many excellent proposal in French, and they outweight those in English? Maybe the fact that you paper was accepted indicates that you think in French?

    You will understand everything that is said in French. No worries. I trust you. Besides, you can always use your beautiful and intricate quebecois slang to scare people off. “Sacres” are something you definitively kept from your years in la belle province.

    More seriously though. Since when do we use pause-sante in a conference? Pause-sante sounds like you will have free massages during your breaks. Or seeweeds baths. Also, why funding one conference? Why not giving the same amount of money to all of you professors to attend conferences instead? I manage to go to two to three conferences each year with the ridiculously low amount of money the university gives me for conference fees by travelling cheap. Sad but true.


    1. “the same way I was trapped in when that famous Argentinian professor complained about my lack of knowledge of the French language”

      -Oh my God, that was hilarious. In a really warped offensive way, of course.

      “Also, why funding one conference? Why not giving the same amount of money to all of you professors to attend conferences instead?”

      -With the system you suggest, nobody will be able to control what people do and show preferences for the ones that happen to be liked. 🙂


  3. A mandatory French conference at Ottawa? I’m very surprised, even if I know that Ottawa university has a French sector. I don’t think somebody will ask you a question in French, but it’s sad for you that other conferences are in French.

    Even here at Laval, a francophone university, there’s no mandatory French conference for the Economics Department seminars. If the speaker presents in English, questions will be in English.


  4. Office québécois de la langue française will probably have an observer present so maybe you should get it read in French by a “de souche.”:)


      1. Don’t be heart-broken. Next time you will go at the MLA conference or some regional MLA conferences where you will be enlightened by lovers of Hispanic studies… in good-old English.

        Seriously, it is not that bad. I know that you will be able to follow everything in French.


  5. I’d offer to help, but I’ve got to study for a test Thursday, and if I mailed you my textbook, workbook, and flashcards I don’t think they’d come back to me in time.

    Perhaps you could record the conference and go over it more at length later? Or maybe there will be translators? Maybe?


    1. Thank you for the kind thoughts, Pen. I think I’ll just request the texts of the talks in advance, read then carefully and see if that makes it easier to understand what’s going on at the conference.

      Good luck with the test!!


  6. Clarissa, I am sorry to hear you have blown your funding on a dud conference. I hope you can arrange some more funding for a conference you will enjoy.

    It is a little funny because for the last week I was teasing a postdoc that is presenting our work in Vancouver week.

    I kept telling him to practice his French. The day before he left I told him that questions in French would be allowed. He looked sick at that point.

    Neither of us know enough about Canada to know if that was likely.


  7. What is a health break anyway? Is that some strange way of referring to time allotted for personal needs–like visits to the bathroom?

    Perhaps you’ve written about this somewhere previously and since I’m a fairly new reader to your blog I do not understand how someone loses their spoken French? Unless you are making a reference to parisian French is very different from québécois?

    Are you serious that you’ve completely lost your spoken French?


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