Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Word: Sangfroid

When I was about 16, my mother and I left Massachusetts, where we'd lived for three years, and drove across Canada with a car load of our stuff and our cat back to California where we plopped back down with a sigh of relief. Well, I did anyway. I'm a Californian girl at heart and always have been, although now as an adult I have an appreciation for Mass.

For some reason, the high school wouldn't let me start on the first day of school even though we arrived in town a month before. They made me start on the second or third day, which meant that I had to enter every class as the new girl and disrupt everything while I handed my pass to the teacher and she or he wrote me into their book and then directed me to one of the last empty seats. In other words: a ton of attention drawn to me.

I hated this because years earlier we had arrived back in the US from our time in Greece. We landed then in West Virginia of all places (my mother had family there and it was easy), and let me tell you: the West Virginian kids were not at all pleased to see this little flashy girl come in from Athens. The teachers all thought it was great of course and asked me allllll about Greece while I stood in front of the class, no doubt hoping to use it as a teaching lesson, but the only thing I got was daily threats to be beaten up for being "preppy." (Because, as everyone knows, arriving from Athens means you're preppy. Or something.) It wasn't a good time.

Then, as years later in California in my junior year of high school, I quaked with fear having to draw so much attention to myself. So imagine my surprise when in that Californian school I entered my US History class and a girl named Anita invited me to work on a project with her. I said yes. I said that I'd been really nervous having to come into class a few days late. She said, "Really? Cause you looked totally confident and together."

This was huge news to me. Apparently, I had some kind of sangfroid outer shell. Sangfroid is your word today, by the way. It means coolness or composure, especially under strain or stress. At first I thought that this unknown sangfroid ability was just a fluke, that maybe Anita hadn't seen me shaking or anything because she was sitting too far back. But as time went on (and we became very good friends), I came to believe her-- that I had some kind of confidence or coolness that I could exude. I mean, hey, it's better than sweat-stains in your arm pits, isn't it?

I don't actually know if I've been sangfroid in other stressful periods of my life. I do know that I didn't quite manage it on my wedding day when I walked down the aisle. My lips were quivering because I knew all eyes were on me, and let me tell you--I was not sangfroid about it. I pursed my lips and clamped them shut so no one could see me shaking, but that didn't look so cool-- as you can see in the picture. Also, a family friend told me that he spoke to me right outside the church before we went in to walk down the aisle and all I did was stare at him like a deer in the headlights when he spoke to me, but I have absolutely no recollection of that.

(In the picture, yes, it looks like a coy little expression doesn't it, but it is not, NO it is not, it is me pursing my lips to keep them from trembling from nerves!)

Even so, I don't know whether Anita, who is still a dear friend today, knows what effect her words had on me back then on my first day in a new school in a new town when she extended kindness and friendship to me, allowing me to think I'd been sangfroid even if I'd been a mass of nerves inside.

Bonus: In contrast to walking down the aisle, here I am being accosted by a lion on my wedding day and I'm totally sangfroid about it. (Yes I have blurred out Mr. Sierra and covered his head with an arrow because I didn't ask him if he would like to be put on the web to protect his privacy.)


Did you know this word? Tell me about it in the comments.

18 comments:

Linda G. said...

First, let me just say you were a beautiful bride--simply lovely. :)

Yes, I did already know what sangfroid meant, because I've been accused of it myself. I do tend to keep my cool in extreme circumstances, true. It's afterward, when no one is watching, that I become a pile of quivering goo. ;)

Anonymous said...

Very kind words, thank you. I wish I could inherit some sangfroid, I get more and more shakey and nervous lately when I speak in front of a group. (BTW I didn't know of the word). -Anita

demery bader-saye said...

Didn't know it but I love it!

By the way, as a blogger, you still come across in a sangfroid kind of way... like you've got it all together and have been blogging, writing funny and charming stories, and interviewing literary agents for years.

And I agree with Linda - what a lovely bride you were :)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Never heard this word, but I think this is what I refer to as my therapist face. After working a few years as a social worker/therapist, I learned to look calm and collected even when my head is screaming "OMG! WTF?" :) I'm also extremely shy in new situations and it's sometimes been construed as snobbiness, so I guess that would be kind of sangfroid as well.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Therapist face = sangfroid =? Sigmund Freud = me confused because that's almost as bad the George Orwell/Orson Welles thing. :)

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