Friday, May 27, 2011

Requisite Intent

Requisite Intent is a legal term I learned from a lawyer from New Orleans.  Since then, I’ve had an almost-empty file folder by that title.  Yesterday, I put something in it.

My reflections on requisite intent and whether or not I had it began as a classroom misunderstanding on the first day of last semester.   I was teaching a second-level French class and used the phrase "Je viens de . . ." ("I'm from" or literally, "I come from") when introducing myself to the class.  The students’ scrunched foreheads suggested that they weren’t quite following.   Then one of my students from last semester raised her hand and asked “‘Je viens de’ . . . c’est un synonyme de  ‘J'habite à'?" to which I emphatically responded Non.  

I come from is not a synonym for I live in.

I drew a tree on the board to illustrate what I thought was the difference, and pointed to the roots reaching deep into the ground.  It was more of a lollipop tree than anything, but if pressed, you might identify it as an oak but not the kind of live oak or chêne vert you find on LSU’s campus with big branches that arc up then dip back down to the ground, all strung with Spanish moss.  If I’d had a red marker, I would have scribbled in dirt around the roots, the crimson clay of the Carolinas.

Je VIENS de Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, mais j"HABITE à Baton Rouge.

Oh, they nodded as if the statement had removed all ambiguity.  But had it?  Was it really that simple? 

The question arose again a few weeks ago when our department, which incidentally has the largest number of undergraduates enrolled in French classes in the country, watched a presentation by a textbook author. 

He pointed out that as language teachers, we often operate on the funny assumption that every interrogation has one logical response.  “What we found out though, as we incorporated more dialogue with actual French speakers into our materials,” he said, “is that people don’t always respond the way we expect them to, even to the most seemingly straightforward questions.”   

Everyone knew what he meant by actual French speakers.  NOT Julien, and Geneviève, and Jean-François and the other peppy personnages who populated French textbooks, whose conversations consisted of “Je m’appelle” and “Quoi de neuf?” with a little “zut alors” and “Oh là là!” here and there.  Julien, Geneviève and Jean-François were always content to cheerily converse in the same fifty vocabulary words that week’s textbook topic. 

The textbook author clicked play on a video clip in which ten or so Francophones responded to the question “Quelle est votre nationalité?” (What is your nationality?). 

Some answered predictably, saying “Je suis français” or “Je suis de nationalité canadienne.” Others answered more implicit questions, offering information about their region or city.  Still others made a distinction between where they were born, if it was elsewhere, and their legal nationality.  A few mentioned their ethnic background or their parents’ as a way of referencing an identity that might otherwise be rendered invisible by what’s printed on a passport. 

In France, it’s illegal to ask about race or national origin, even for the country’s census.  (Ironically, it is not at all illegal to request that an identity photo be attached to résumés or job applications.)  The concept of a hyphenated identity doesn’t really exist, officially, and because the country doesn’t keep records about race and national origin, once you’re “French” on paper, anything you were before is effectively erased.  Except, of course, when people ask where you’re from and don’t seem satisfied hearing that it’s the same place they’re from.

But back to the original question: what’s the difference between being from a place and just living there?  And when do you start to be from a place where you’ve lived? 

The lawyer from New Orleans said that while he had lived other places, sometimes for periods of a few years, he’d always just been away from home temporarily.  That he never developed requisite intent to stay anywhere else.

What are the implicit questions when people ask where you’re from?  Do they want to know which county issued your birth certificate?  (Hamilton County, Chattanooga, TN) Where you lived the longest?  (Mount Pleasant, NC) The city or town most instrumental in the formation of your life outlook? (Montpellier, France tied with Mount Pleasant) The address you loved the most?  (11 Rue Castex, 4ème arrondisement, Paris) The place you were most willing to claim and be claimed by? (Chapel Hill, NC)

Almost two months ago, I misplaced my NC Driver’s License.  So for weeks, I’ve been partially looking, partially trusting that it would turn up, and flashing my passport a lot in the meantime.  The fear that I’d misplace it, too, or be pulled over, licenseless, started to weigh on me.  Then, I realized that if I wanted to take a summer class when I’m not teaching, it would cost $500.00 more as an out-of-state student.  

So I got a Louisiana license.

My roommie (who is also going Louisianian) and I agreed that we're a little uncomfortable with this usage of "litter."  Shouldn't there be a preposition?

Also, that's our (tallest in the nation!) state house.  34 floors, baby.  Thanks, Huey.

Confession: That is not my real weight, but it's close enough.
Applied to vote.

And began to fill out this form:

Right now, I am in the process of composing responses to questions concerning “[my] reasons for coming or returning to Louisiana” and “[my] reasons for believing [I am] a domicillary of Louisiana” including “any other facts relative to [my] resident status.” 

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

In August of 2009, I drove a U-Haul across the country to return to a place where I’d always felt at home despite having only lived there for a couple of months.  Since that time, I have been enrolled as a doctoral student in the Department of French Studies at LSU where I also teach undergraduates beginning language classes.  I live in the state of Louisiana full time, pay taxes, and carry a Louisiana license and voter registration card in my purse. 

Other facts relevant to my resident status . . . In addition to my Pelican state papers, I also often carry Tabasco in my purse.  I can spell and pronounce words like Natchitoches, Pontchartrain, Atchafalaya, Tchoupitoulas, and Chachere.  Over the course of several state house visits paired with documentary viewings and readings, I’ve acquired a fair amount of knowledge about Huey Long.  

I’ve accumulated a few Louisiana fun facts, both obvious (that the state reptile is the alligator, and the state song, “You Are My Sunshine”)  

Shot during a swamp tour last February, right before our guide broke out the moonshine.

and less obvious (that the state drink is milk, and the state dog, the Catahoula Leopard Dog).

Through exchanges with native speakers and by listening to a lot of Beausoleil and Feufollet, I’m learning some of the distinguishing markers of Cajun French.  On Sundays at nine, I’m watching Treme.  After two Mardi Gras seasons and ten parades, I’ve finally figured out how to catch beads without severe injuries.  

At a daytime parade in NOLA, after some mentorship from another NC to LA transplant.

When given the choice, I opt for Abita.  Crawfish peeling has become second nature enough to where I can now teach someone else to do it.  The last vacation I took was on a houseboat on the bayou near Breaux Bridge, and I’ve frequented enough barn dances and local festivals to pick up the Cajun waltz.

The prettiest little houseboat on the bayou.
When people visit from out of town, I take them to Coffee Call for beignets and café au lait.  This summer, I’m reading A Confederacy of Dunces and All the King’s Men. 

Finally, despite having never liked football, even during the strange span between 4th and 9th grades when I wore a cheerleading uniform, I found myself wiping my eyes and waving a hanky when the Saints won the Superbowl.

I hope that counts as requisite intent.


  1. Ah, this makes me happy. Are you requisiting an intent to stay longer then?

    I think after you've read A Confederacy of Dunces, you need to read Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann. Not as much of a masterpiece, but boy does it get NOLA too.

  2. I'm Red Sticking around for the time being. I will add Lives of the Saints to to my Louisiana list. We need to go out for Lucky Dogs after I finish COD.