27 March, 2001

Small course in the art of being humble

Grapeharvest in Loisy-en-Brie, 2004, my first by the way.

Our gentle neighbours have come for a drink during the weekend, and I have learned two things about the upcoming test next friday morning.

First thing: Each candidate must prune both two Chablis-vines and two Cordon de Royat-vines. There is no such thing as an easy and a difficult way of passing as I have thought all along. Only double to pass or fail.

Just a test
During the last two and a half month - 10 thursdays that is - I have had the idea that the practical test was only half as extensive as it happens to be. It makes me sort of wonder what other important parts I have missed.

But everybody still goes - and Danes and French are incredibly united on this one -
it is just a test. "If you do not make it, you just do it again, when you have the experience to be sure to pass," our neighbour, Jocelyne, tops up. Dear me!

So why is it then, that this one is so much more hideous than most other tests I have done so far?

Challenge of your head or hands
The test consists of three parts. Those that I can control intellectually, read and prepare at my desk, I am almost able to handle. Even I do find it challenging to think about doing an oral examination in French. A language where I still skip anything more advanced than present and past. But at least I know the process: What you cannot understand, you just learn by heart.

The monkey test... the written - seven correct answers out of ten possible ones in 10 minutes - works fine for me. When I practise it, I have now begun to make mistakes, because I do not concentrate fully anymore. I know it all too well.

The real challenge is the practical test. I know how to prune both the Chablis- as well as the Cordon de Royat-way, at least if I sit nice and quietly and do it at my speed. Problem is that you are supposed to keep pace with a certain minimum speed.

In my former job experiences I have always sold my head,never my hands. It is a very new experience to have your weak sides tester rather than the strong ones. To the practical performance you may add language as well.

Driver's license to the vineyards
The closest I get to something similar must be the driver's license. Back then I used all the cheap tricks I could come up with.

I wore as short a skirt as I could possibly find, and I made sure that the examiner, who happened to be a future politician in the area, knew all to well, that I worked in the regional radio station. I passed... but how and why was a big mystery to both my teacher and myself. But a license is a license, and I have had mine ever since.

This test is the first practical one that I try since then, even of course it is much more. I see it as a small test of the art of being humble in disguise. The so far most challenging mental test of my acceptance of a life abroad and all that it takes.

Feelings and pure logic
I know a French woman, who went to Great Britain with a university degree in her pocket. She began 12 years in England in a factory. By doing this she showed a determination and a will to get to know her new country from the bottom, and it gave her the basic knowledge of language and cultural behaviour, that soon made it possible for her to use her education abroad.

It is quite clear of course, that the emigrant must begin his (her) new life in another level than in his native country, where everything is known to him. Now, emotional comprehension followed by acceptance and action do not necessarily take place in the same pace as the intellectual.

Intellectually I understand very well, that it is not really a personal defeat to have resultats one or maybe two steps above the functionally illiterate - after all I have not lived that long in France - but even so I am not really able to accept this.

Which may be the explanation why I find it so difficult to meet my almost - even not 100 percent - certain defeat next friday. But since we have already entered the exam - payed to do it - long time ago, it of course does not make sense at all not to try. Except that logic is just about the least usable mental operation I can think of in connection with all this. A little humility during these last days would be of some help though.

Humility before D-day
I quite vividly remember my old grandmothers fight during her last years to accept a life in dependency of others. I am convinced that it is more difficult to get used to your own weakness than the contrary. At least if you once have had to teach yourself to be strong. During these last 10 weeks I have certainly learned a few things about my mind and the way it works.

  • I seem to be a hardcore competitioner who does not like to enter a contest where the chances already beforehand are small. Apparently I do not really accept the fact that it is okay for me to gamble and loose. Even around 50 percent will probably fail thus making it at least as much a matter of luck as skill.
  • I already knew that I am proud, the degree has still surprised me. I am quite sure it has helped me through the years to complete different projects and jobs. But right now it makes it hard to relax about the test: I may as well admit, that it actually matters to me whether I fail or pass even this is not home match for me.
By the way I physically have big difficulties to keep up with the others. The ninth day of the pruning course I managed to survive only two times 30 minutes and I did no attaching at all.

I am five and a half month pregnant and I have put on almost nine kilos of weight. It is hard for me to bend to see what I need to see and the working heigth of just 60 centimeters is so low that I very fast feel it as pains in the back and stomach. The rest of the time I spend lying down in the car and later on in my bed. Practising in the weekends is over too. I will have to take it as it comes.

Never renew the American vine
Neighbour Jocelyne has one last advice to share:

You fail if you prune your rachet on a shoot from the very low part of the root. This is the American vine, and it is sterile. If you renew your vine with it, you will not have any grapes, so it is certainly fair to fail on that one. The art of it is to know the difference.

"You wait and see", says Jocelyne, who has 30 years of experience in the vineyards, "In a few years it will be easy for you to spot the difference between the right and the wrong shoots." It was not for the wife of the electrician, who failed her exam the same year as Jocelyne, because she was not able to.

I am not either, of course. I just know that I must be careful if I have to use the very low branches. But I am sure she knew as well. The problems occur when there is nothing else to use, and then it is real bad not to be capable of spotting the difference.

But as everybody says: "It is just a test, come on," Right, it is just a test then.

På dansk

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The very interested reader may want to know that you fail as well if you:

1) are too slow,
2) leave your vine with too many charpentes: Four are permitted,
3) remove your courson when it is not necessary,
4) have superposition or chevauchement,
5) prune your lancement under your rachet,
6) hold your secateur badly,
7) get too little points in the final count of points.
8) renew your Cordonde Royat too early.

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