Attitude with a capital A
Attitude, attitude, attitude – the French sometimes have so much attitude that it can show up where you least expect it. This week I found it in a Pilates class in Paris (absolutely not kidding). It was not directed at me so I could handle it. I just stretched back; watched the show and helped to console the victim in the dressing room after the lesson.
The French Pilates teacher, who I will call Isabelle (not her real name) was the one with the attitude and, during our Saturday morning class, she subjected a confused American student to what could be seen as public derision and humiliation. The woman, Sue (also not her real name) was in her forties (this was an adult Pilates class) and she mentioned at the beginning of the hour that she had not done any physical exercise for the past two months. I think that’s all Isabelle needed to hear. She got ready to “focus” on Sue and focus she did.
Now, it is the teacher’s job to correct her students during the Pilates mat exercises. I am not denying that. She has to watch them and ensure they are performing the exercises correctly. However, she can choose to correct her students in a positive way by using encouraging, helpful comments. Well, Isabelle was light years away from “positive”. I’ll show you what I mean.
Focus, focus, focus
All the following remarks were directed at Sue. For some inexplicable reason, she left the rest of the class alone – I was happy about that.
“I said exhale, not inhale – you do understand French, don’t you?”
“Did you forget everything I taught you? Come on, get with it, this isn’t your first class.”
“The knee should be pointing toward the ceiling; you are really not listening to me today – if you don’t listen you might as well stay home.”
At one point Isabelle even told the rest of us to relax and stop our exercises for a few minutes as she twisted and turned Sue’s body into a Pilates pretzel. I couldn’t bear to watch. I just listened to Sue’s tormented sighs and wondered why she didn’t just get up and leave the class.
When Isabelle talked to Sue, there was a “tone” in her voice. It reminded me of my fourth grade teacher, Sister Mary Humilitas. She spoke with a vocal, demeaning, parochial school-like snarl. This scene also brought back memories of endless bi-lingual arguments with my French ex-husband. I was constantly repeating, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.” He never understood what I meant and I’m sure that Isabelle wouldn’t understand either.
Later, in the dressing room, Sue and I, the only Americans in the class, talked about it. Sue asked me, “She was on my case today, don’t you think? I just wanted to come and relax and start to get back into shape after vacation. A little positive reinforcement would have been nice. I don’t like paying so much money to get yelled at.”
“I know. She did that to me for a while too. I think she’s afraid to be nasty to the French students and only hassles foreigners.”
Just then a French lady came into the changing room.
Two Sides to Every Fitness Story
“Ah Sue, you were so lucky today. Isabelle gave you so much attention. I think you are her favorite student. I am jealous.”
Sue and I looked at each other and laughed. There it was again, another cultural difference rearing its ugly head. What we Americans interpreted as a negative action, the French saw as a positive one – and were even jealous of it. Just another example of how everything is relative – even attitude.