Burning Questions

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Last season, Clare Burns, 30, a New York native who teaches skiing at Val d'Isère, France, became the first American woman to be fully certified by the national French ski school (L'ENSA). We had to bug her about it. (Full disclosure: Burns is the sister of an editor at this magazine.)

Q: What was the hardest thing you had to do to get certified?

A: The whole bloody thing. I should have gone to medical school instead. It would have been easier.

Q: Why so hard?

A: In France, ski instructing is seen as a respectable career, and the qualification is like getting a degree. Before you can even start the system, they make you do a slalom race where you have to get within 20 percent of the time of the forerunner, who is usually an ex-World Cup racer. After that, there are tons of technical exams, teaching courses, off-piste training, exams on physiology and legislation-and my favorite, the foreign-language exam. I picked English, of course.

Q: How'd that go?

A: It was absurd. This pompous Frenchman corrected my English. He asked me what a "godille" meant. When I responded, "It's a short-swing turn," he said, "Isn't it a 'widdle?'" I said, "A what?" He said, "A 'widdle.'" I thought maybe he was trying to say "little turn," but that with his Elmer Fudd accent it was coming out "widdle." Later, I realized he was trying to say wedeln. Which is German anyway, as far as I know. He gave me a 19 out of 20.

Q: So do you still use deodorant, or have you gone native?

A: There are limits to cultural assimilation. And for the record, I shower twice a day.

Going to France? If so, get Clare to teach you to widdle: 011-33-4-79-06-28-14 or cburns7@aol.com.