Texte d'Elizabeth Gaffney


« The waiting area grew colder and emptier as dark fell, and he moved closer to the smoking stove by the clerk's counter. Soon there would be nothing left to do but knock on church doors and seek lodging for the night. He brooded over other possible avenues but came up only with cold alleyways. Well, it was warmer by the stove at least, and he stretched out his legs toward the heat. He surprised himself suddenly with a twitch – he'd been asleep. He looked to the far corner and saw the clerk at the desk beckon at him. "You. Yeah, you." He had been called. "Yes, sir." Hands on thighs, optimism rising, he stood. "You been here all day. Didn't you sign in ? Don't you realize we're closed ?" He looked about and saw that the other benches sat vacant and the hall was empty but for himself and the clerk. The optimism dwindled away. The man was just kicking him out. "Sorry. Sorry. I'll go." "No – wait. Turns out you're lucky. See, I only let you snore because of the rotten weather, but now it seems I'm lucky. You noticed the snow ? Well, someone at Street Cleaning only just looked out the window, and they sent a boy over here with an order for an overnight shoveling(1) crew – just in time for closing. So what about it ? Shoveling snow for the city. You want the job ?" It took him a moment to follow. "Snow, a job, shoveling," he repeated, and then he understood. "Ja, danke, danke," he said. "Is that a yes ? You better stop speaking Dutch and learn some English." "Yes. Yes, sir." "All right, good. You can start now and go till the regulars show up at six, see ? Anyway, you've had your beauty sleep, and I think I can tell from looking that you ain't got evening plans." Beauty sleep ? the stableman wondered. Evening plans ? He wasn't sure how he should respond. "Or don't you want a night job ? You want I find some other lug(2) ?" "A lug ? No…or, yes. I mean, yes, I'll do it – and no, no one else." "You'll take the job." "I'll take it." "Good. The thing of it is, you're the only man left. You think you're man enough to shovel the city alone ?" "The city, alone ?" he thought a moment. Perhaps it was a joke. "That would take a long time, sir," he finally said. His English might have been better if only the few people who talked to him had made more sense. "You're right, it would. So, first thing you do is round up, say, twenty men and take 'em down to the dock at Coffee House Slip, East River off of Wall Street. You'll get the carts and shovels there and sign up with the fellow at the office. The others get paid for the time they shovel, you get paid foreman's(3) wages, starting right now." Foreman's wages. "What's your name ?" "Geiermeier," he said, and leaning over the clerk's ledger(4), he saw it written out in the beautiful Gothic script he'd learned as a boy and pointed to the entry. "I signed in this morning." "You got to be kidding. Is that how you say that ? I must have tried to call you five times today, yesterday, too. I started to think it was Chinese, all that up and down and curlicue around, no way of knowing what letters is meant. Where'd you learn to write like that anyhow ? You don't know how to give yourself a leg up, do you ? A leg up ? Americans said much that he didn't understand. He had, listened almost obsessively to the names being called. But then the clerk uttered a strange, vaguely familiar word, and it dawned on him : this was how the clerk had been pronouncing his name, with the g misinterpreted as h, the vowels collapsed, the m transmuted, and the sounds and stresses generally so different from the actual pronunciation that it hadn't even registered on him. He frowned slightly with frustration – how many opportunities had he missed in the past two days because of this ? "That's a G," he said weakly, pointing to the page. "I never realized you were calling me." "What kind of writing is that, Greek ? You ain't Greek, are you ?" "It's German." "Aw, jeez. Now, there's plenty of Germans in New York, and they seem to get along. But where are you going to get with a name no one can read, and you can't even tell when they're trying to ? It just won't do, that name. Or the handwriting either." »
Adapted fromElizabeth Gaffney, Metropolis, 2005

a) Name the country and city where the story is set.
b) What time of the year is it ?
c) What time of the day is it ? Justify your answer with two quotations.
2. Geiermeier is waiting in a sort of job centre. How long has he been there ?
a) "Soon there would be nothing left to do but knock on church doors and seek lodging for the night."
In your own words say what his problem is and how he must be feeling.
b) In what particular way does this problem get solved ?
c) Say what he is asked to do. (20/30 words)
4. "Turns out you're lucky."
In your own words, say what chain of events makes Geiermeier lucky. (40/ 50 words)
5. Read from "No – wait." to "he said".
Describe and explain Geiermeier's reaction to the clerk's words.
6. Focus on what the clerk says from "Is that a yes ?" to "the city alone ?".
What does it reveal about his attitude towards Geiermeier ? (2 elements)
7. Focus on the passage from "What's your name ?" to the end.
Why didn't Geiermeier get a job sooner ? (40 words)
a) Read from "Aw, jeez." to the end. Say what the clerk implicitly tells Geiermeier to do and explain why.
b) Imagine Geiermeier's thoughts and reactions following the clerk's remark. (40/ 50 words)
Choose one of the following subjects.
(250 words approximately. Write down the number of words.)
1. Trying to make oneself understood in a foreign country is not always easy. What sort of situations can it lead to ? Give examples.
2. You tell your friends that you have decided to apply for a summer job in an English-speaking country. They react to your decision. Write the scene.
Translate into French from "You been here all day…" to "want the job ?"
(1)To shovel : déblayer.
(2)Lug : gars.
(3)Foreman : contremaître.
(4)Ledger : registre.


a) The scene takes place in the United States of America in New York.
b) It's winter / autumn or winter / winter or spring.
c) It's evening / the end of the day / dusk.
  • "dark fell…"
  • "… you've been here all day…"
  • "… don't you realize we're closed?"
  • "Soon there would be nothing left to do but knock on church doors and seek lodging for the night."
2.  He has been there all day.
a) He has nowhere to spend the night, that's why he is anxious.
b) He gets / is given / is offered a job for the night.
c) He will have to make up a team of about twenty men. Then, he will get carts and shovels in order to shovel the snow off the streets of New York. He will have to supervise the work of the team.
4. The clerk let him sleep and didn't throw him out in the cold. As it started snowing just before closing time and he is the only one left in the waiting-room, the clerk has no choice but to pick him to clear the snow off the street overnight.
5. He repeats the clerk's words because he doesn't understand them. German is the language he uses to answer at first since he is not fluent in English at all.
6. He is impatient / irritated, patronizing. He makes fun of him / is sarcastic.
7. He didn't understand that he didn't get a job sooner because when the clerk had called him he hadn't recognized his name since Geiermeier had used Gothic script to write it down, the clerk hadn't been able to read it and had mispronounced it.
a) He tells him that he should change his name and handwriting because he won't have any chance to integrate in the U.S.A. if he keeps them.
b) Geiermeier may react in many different ways. He could feel disappointed / hurt / sad as it would mean his identity not being accepted. He could also be shocked and decide to leave. Or, he could be grateful for this piece of advice because until then nobody had taken care of him and helped him. Consequently he could decide to change his name so as to integrate the American society more easily.
1. Trying to make oneself understood in a foreign country may lead to different sorts of situations since speaking a foreign language is not always easy.
If this happens on a holiday trip, I would say it is not very important since what people try to say is not really vital. It is either to ask for a direction or to chat with the natives but generally that kind of conversation is not so important. Nevertheless it might occasionally lead to a complete lack of understanding or to misunderstanding which may sometimes create problems or conflicts.
But when you're not a tourist but an immigrant and if it is difficult for you to be understood, the problem is all the more important.
It means that you cannot really communicate which is often the case of many immigrants who generally live together and recreate a community. In that case, they have almost no possibility to fit in the society they live in and to take everybody's style of life.
They are quite often compelled to accept underpaid jobs given by people who take advantage of them. They have no choice but to accept menial jobs and have no opportunity to find something else, thus they can't climb the rungs of the social ladder.
That is why making oneself understood is very important when you live in a foreign country if you want to get better living and working conditions.
2. Il faudra penser à présenter le travail sous la forme d'un dialogue (tirets, guillemets, retour à la ligne lorsqu'il y a changement de prise de parole).
« Vous avez passé toute la journée ici. Vous ne vous êtes pas inscrit ? Vous ne voyez pas que c'est fermé ? » Il regarda autour de lui et vit que les autres bancs étaient inoccupés / libres et qu'il n'y avait personne dans la salle à part lui et l'employé.
Son optimisme s'envola. L'homme était tout simplement en train de le jeter dehors / le jetait tout simplement dehors.
« Désolé. Désolé. Je m'en vais / je pars / j'y vais. »
« Non. Attendez. Il se trouve que finalement vous avez de la chance. Vous comprenez, je ne vous ai laissé ronfler / roupiller que parce que le temps est pourri, mais maintenant on dirait que c'est moi qui ai de la chance. Vous avez remarqué qu'il neige ? Eh bien quelqu'un au service d'entretien de la voirie vient juste de regarder par la fenêtre et il nous ont envoyé un gars / coursier ici juste avant la fermeture pour avoir une équipe de nuit pour déblayer les rues. Alors ça vous dit / tente ? Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez ? Déblayer la neige pour la ville. Vous le voulez, ce boulot ? »