Two Cultures, One Teacher

By Amber Leung

Gorman explaining various aspects of French culture to students for an upcoming project.

Gorman explaining various aspects of French culture to students for an upcoming project.

She knew at that moment she had made a mistake. The tension in the room was undeniable; the head of Paris looked offended, and her boss, confused. “On ne tu-toi pas Monsieur (You don’t use “tu” when referring to authority)”, corrected the expatriate from Paris. Palms sweating, she regained her composure and tried to continue on with her translations.

At age 24, Christine Gorman was hired as an internal auditor for Banque de Paris, where she occasionally translated meetings from English to French. After explaining the incident to her boss, he was dumbfounded by the cultural difference and could not comprehend why such a fleeting term could change the course of the meeting.

Growing up in Brittany, France, Gorman lived on a farm; however, in third grade, her family moved back to America. Gorman was placed in an environment where she could only speak one word of English– “Hello!” – but even that was thick with a French accent.

“Unfortunately, the school that I came back to didn’t have English as a Second Language, so my parents were told that if I couldn’t catch up in a year, I would have to be left back,” Gorman explains. “I remember in fourth grade staying up late at night with my mom working on my English.”

Although Gorman thought that blending in was easy, she still encountered cultural barriers, such as dinner table manners and perspective of life. “The French have a different attitude towards living. It’s quality not quantity…the French enjoy life,” says Gorman.

Living in America, Gorman has never abandoned her French roots. Gorman said, “I’ve tried to keep all the traditions I grew up with. Raising my two girls, I made sure to continue to instill the values of family and unity.” From visiting France during the summer to continuously connecting with her friends, Gorman’s family is still deeply tied to French culture.

My sister and I have always been exposed to French culture while growing up…from the food during holidays to how our house is decorated, even the bumper stickers on our cars are from our hometown in France,” says Danielle, Gorman’s daughter. “We have lots of pride…being French is a huge part of who we are.”

Married to a woman whose culture differs from his, John Gorman states, “In the beginning it was an education. I learned about wine and food…experienced European history…learned some French, but mostly swear words directed at me.”

When asked about why she changed careers to a French and ESL teacher, Gorman replied, “I teach what I am. I want my students to realize how important it is to learn about other people and how making this connection can only enhance who they are as a person in society.”

Gorman said, “At the end of the day, it always comes down to culture and how we learn to critique the good and the bad, and ingrain it into our lives.”