Monday, February 26, 2024

Peanut Butter and Jelly

 This might not be true, but way back when I was in elementary school it seemed that at least half of us ate PB&J sandwiches at lunch time. A few unfortunate kids might have a bologna sandwich in their lunch box, but remember the way the smell hit the kids around you and everyone cried “ewwww. (I loved bologna sandwiches).  Peanut butter and jelly was unoffensive, delicious, and quick and easy for someone to make before you ran out the door for the school bus.

Memories of school lunches came rushing back to me as I was thinking up what would be the quintessential American snack to share with a bunch of French teenagers. I have been meeting on Saturday mornings at the village library with a gang to play around with English. We sing silly songs, read baby books to each other, act out charades, and laugh at each others drawings for Pictionary. We play like we are in kindergarten. And just like kindergarten the most anticipated activity of the morning is snack time.

For our first snack time I whipped up several peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches. I cut them into fourths because that is how I like them and because there was a good chance that no one would eat them.

Before snack was passed out I pulled apart one of the little quarters —

“Whoah.The jelly is spread with the peanut butter?” 


These kids have already acquired a certain snobbishness and disdain for American junk food from media and family.

They reluctantly took their snack, looked at each other, kind of held their noses, and nibbled. The sound of yum went around the group. 

“That’s good.” 

They were surprised by how they liked this often heard of, never tasted, combination. Even the librarian couldn’t resist coming over and trying one.

As they gobbled up everything on the plate we talked about lunch time in an American elementary school. Lunch boxes, leaky thermoses, milk cartons, cafeteria lines, cafeteria food (if you wanted it), sitting with friends and recess.

You have to understand that no one brings their own lunch to school in France. Every day the students sit down to a hot meal. There is a starter (cabbage and tomato salad) They have a meat and a vegetable (veal marinated with mushrooms, broccoli). Followed by bread and cheese (camembert). Then there is a dessert (kiwi). The only thing to drink is water. Lunch is the main meal of the day for the students. When they get home they will have a little snack and then a light dinner. The thought of only having a sandwich for lunch is confusing. I have spoken with students that spent time in the States and they say the hardest part of their experience wasn’t the language, but getting used to quick, cold lunches. They always felt like they were starving - until dinner which left them too full to sleep.

After their big lunch French students do what all children want to do at school, they run out to recess to play.

So even though it’s a bit early on Saturday morning the teenagers and I have our snack and play around with the sound and feel of English. A childish song animates the room with action words and silliness.

It has been fun to see this group be willing to take risk in speaking a language of which they have little or no command. To risk looking foolish and realizing there is nothing wrong with foolish if it is helping you make progress. How the heck else would we have made it through kindergarten? Plus your friends liked it when you made them laugh. They still do.