Alexander McCall Smith, Corduroy Mansions


« Like so many of her peers, she had gone travelling for a year after completing her course in physical education at the University of Western Australia. She had gone to Thailand, where she had spent four months working her way up from Krabi to Chiang Mai, staying in hostels and cheap guest houses. But the life of a lotus-eater, to which the existence of staying in Thai resorts proved to be so similar, became boring and eventually palled. Travel was all very well, but it needed a sense of purpose – something which a journey without a terminus always lacked. After Thailand there were Vietnam and Cambodia, but she was impatient and beginning to run out of money. It was time to go to London. The flat in Corduroy Mansions was the first one she looked at, seeing Jenny's advertisement by chance a few minutes after it had gone live on Gumtree. She had arrived two hours later, been interviewed by Jenny and agreed to move in the next day. Dee had been interviewed the day after that, with Jo being co-opted onto the vetting committee. She and Jo had taken to one another immediately, although both of them had been less sure about Caroline when it was her turn to be assessed as the final member of the flat. "I'm not too sure," Dee whispered to Jo as Jenny took Caroline out of the room to show her the bedroom she would have. "No? What's the problem?" "She's a bit… you know." Jo had her doubts too, but was it because Caroline was a bit… you know? And what was "you know" anyway? "I don't know actually," she said. Was "you know" the same as being a whinger? English people were said to whinge a bit but perhaps in England itself they could be allowed to do so. After all, it was their country, even if it was run by Scots. "Posh," said Dee simply. "Oh." That was different from being a whinger, although one might have, of course, a posh whinger. But Jo's fundamental sense of fairness, her Australian heritage, came to the fore. She remembered her father once remarking, "You can't help the bed you're born in, you know." She had been a teenager when he said that, and the observation had stuck in her memory. Of course you can't help who you are. That is something that people forgot, she felt. They forgot it when they were unkind to people because of where they came from, or because they were different, or because they had greasy skin. Her father was right. "She can't help that, you know," she pointed out. "She can't help the way she talks, can she? None of us can." Dee had found herself unable to argue with that, although she mumbled something about Sloane Rangers(1). But they both decided that they would not object to Caroline's admission to the flat, which was just as well because Jenny announced when she came back into the room that Caroline would be moving in. "Why did she ask us to interview her if she was going to make up her mind by herself?" Jo later complained to Dee. Dee thought for a moment. "Because that's what we call consultation in this country," she said. "It's the same with government. Look at how they have all these consultation exercises. But they decide policy in advance, before they have the consultation exercise, and then they announce what they're going to do – which is exactly what they were always going to do anyway. That's the way it works." "But that's very hypocritical," said Jo. Dee laughed. "Oh yes, it's hypocritical all right. But there's an awful lot of hypocrisy in this country. Isn't it the same in Australia?" That question required more than a few moments of thought. Then Jo replied, "I think we're more direct speakers," she said. "We say things to people's faces." »
Alexander McCall Smith, Corduroy Mansions, 2009

Compréhension de l'écrit
a) What do we learn about Jo (nationality, education, travel experience)? Answer in your own words. (15-20 words)
b) Did Jo work in Thailand? Explain and justify by quoting the text.
2. Where do Jo, Jenny, Caroline and Dee meet? (City? Precise location?)
3. What brings them all together? Write one sentence.
4. Who was in the place first? Justify with one quotation.
5. In what order do the other characters arrive? Justify with a quotation for each character.
a) "After all, it was their country" . Who is speaking?
b) "Because that's what we call consultation in this country" . Who is speaking?
c) What can one conclude about Dee and Caroline's nationality?
7. Why do Jo and Dee have doubts about Caroline? Explain in your own words. (10-20 words)
8. Explain: "You can't help the bed you `re born in" . (15-20 words)
9. How does it influence Jo's final opinion about Caroline? (25-30 words)
10. What political behaviour does Dee refer to when she mentions the British government?
Explain the parallel with the situation in the text. (30-40 words)
11. Contrast Jo's and Dee's visions of their respective countries. (30-40 words)
Expression écrite
Are parental values the only values that can influence people's lives? Justify your answer.(200 words)
(1)Sloane Rangers : young conventional upper-class people from London's West End.


Compréhension de l'écrit
a) Jo is Australian, she has studied physical education at university and she has spent a few months travelling in Thailand, in Vietnam and Cambodia.
b) No, she didn't. She spent four months in hostels and guest houses as a tourist and she got bored, I quote "But the life of a lotus-eater, to which the existence of staying in Thai resorts proved to be so similar, became boring and eventually palled".
2. They meet in London, in Corduroy Mansions.
3. They are looking for a flat to share/ They are looking for shared accommodation.
4. Jenny was in the place first: "[…] seeing Jenny's advertisement […]" .
5. Jo: "She had arrived two hours later, been interviewed by Jenny and agreed to move in the next day" . Then Dee: "Dee had been interviewed the day after that […]" . Then Caroline: "[…] although both of them had been less sure about Caroline when it was her turn to be assessed as the final member of the flat."
a) Jo is speaking.
b) Dee is speaking.
c) Dee and Caroline are both British.
7. They are not sure if they will get on well with her. Dee thinks that she is from a different social background and that she sounds snobbish.
8. You are not responsible for your social origins, you can't be blamed for the family you have or the way you were brought up.
9. Jo wants to be fair and doesn't want to criticize her because of the way she talks. She doesn't want to hold her responsible for her posh accent and wants to be tolerant.
10. The British government makes decisions without consulting people. Even if people are consulted, it doesn't really affect the decision since it is taken prior to the consultation. Likewise, Caroline has asked Jo and Dee to conduct the interviews with her but she chooses to have Caroline as their flatmate without asking them for their opinions.
11. Dee has quite a cynical vision of England as she thinks the system is hypocritical and that people do not really take part in the decisions of the government whereas Jo thinks that things are different in Australia, that people are more direct and that they say what they think.
Expression écrite
Parental values are extremely important in people's lives but I believe that they are not the only values which have an influence on our lives. Everybody agrees to say that childhood is a determining period for our future. This is when our parents teach us all the basics of proper behaviour. Our parents are our role models as kids and we learn from them. The way our parents bring us up, the way they behave with other people and the way they behave with us as well as the values they teach us will have a strong influence on our lives and on the way we behave and think once we are adults. If, for instance, they tell us how important it is to be tolerant and open-minded, these values will probably stay with us for the rest of our lives. However, even though I believe parental values are the most influential values in our lives, I think that other values can be very influential too. School is also a major place where people learn how to feel, think and act. We meet friends who have been raised differently and we meet teachers who may teach us different values. We may also be influenced by religious values. If we believe in god, our faith will have an impact on the decisions we make and on how we behave. Besides, we may be influenced by the experiences we have. As we get older, we go through different experiences, we start to think for ourselves and we may question the parental values we have been taught. When we travel, for example, we find out about different cultures, different ways of thinking and different values, it gives us a new perspective on life and we may change what we believe in. In conclusion, I would say that even though parental values have a great influence on our lives, other values can be influential too.