I've been teaching for a few weeks now in the French university, and have noticed a marked difference between college students from France and from chez moi aux Etats-Unis. While I have never taught university level students in the States, it's not that long ago since I myself was one of them, which gives me the street cred needed to make this observation...
In America, where public restrooms are practically a constitutional right, university students enjoy the liberty of using the facilities at their own discretion... usually trying to slip out the door discretely, causing minimal distraction to classmates. It is generally not required to ask the professor's permission, except during tests or exams, of course... I even remember casually walking out of particularly dull lectures to purchase snacks from the vending machine or answer phone calls.
I had always assumed my students in France would follow suit in my class should ever nature call... Take last week, for example. I was in the midst of what I thought was a riveting lecture about affirmative action in the US with one of my masters classes. I was speaking passionately, even eloquently, and was proud of myself for having so thoroughly researched today's class. One student made eye contact with me as I spoke, his lips starting to mouth something. Convinced that he was moved by my dazzling teaching skills, I grew confident. I can do this! I am teaching and I am making a difference in these people's lives! He was raising his hand now, doubtlessly inspired enough by my lecture to contribute an idea! I nodded in his direction to indicate I was aware of his burning need to speak his mind on the subject I had so artfully presented, and finished my thought. Then I turned to him and said, "so what are your thoughts on the 14th Amendment, Mattis?"
"euhhh, actually, Madame, I must use... euhhh... les toilettes, s'il vous plaît?"
"Oh," I said, disappointed. "well, go ahead." Here I was expecting a brilliant response, and instead I get a half-hearted (and half-French) request to use the bathroom.
Since then, I have been inundated by bathroom requests. Today, in the midst of drawing a diagram (very artistically rendered, I might add) of the American court system on the board, I was again interrupted by the all-too familiar question. A beast inside of me raged, and I snapped.
"For goodness sake, if you have to use the restroom, just go! You are all adults, and I won't stop you! I know you have to ask permission in French schools, which I could understand if you were still in primary school, but you're in UNIVERSITY NOW! In my class, consider yourselves in America! PLEASE DON'T ASK! JUST GO!"
I punctuated my miniature rant with an exasperated sigh, and then noticed that I had quite possibly scared my class mute with my impassioned delivery. Thirty pairs of eyes stared back at me, and as I pondered how to soften what had already been said, in the back row, someone quipped "Yes we can!" A chorus of giggles resulted, and of course, I tried to keep a straight face, failing miserably, and eventually succumbing to laughter.
I must admit that as much as my students drive me crazy, they make me smile in equal quantity.
Next year, I am putting "freedom of bathroom use" in my class rules...