This is a true story that I originally wrote down in French two years ago, but it’s too good not to share.

The story of the flying cows started in a French class while I was studying in Nice for a couple of weeks one summer. One morning the professor gave us a sheet of tricky interview questions to attempt to answer in French.

  • If you had to get rid of a state in the United States, which one would you choose and why?
  • How many quarters would it take to make a tower as high as the Empire State Building?
  • A penguin wearing a sombrero passes by the door right now. What does he say and why?
  • How many windows are there in New York?

And my favorite:

  • How many cows are there in Canada?

They’re all difficult and open-ended questions, but the question about the cows is by far the hardest, and I said that to the class. Everyone disagreed with me and thought the estimation questions with the windows and quarters were harder, but like the eager beaver I am I explained how you would roughly estimate answers to those questions. I’m pretty everyone just thought I was a crazy American at that point.

I went on to explain myself by saying that I know nothing about Canada. Can cows even survive the winter? When I think of cows, which isn’t that often but it does happen, I always think of New Zealand. Maybe they went over to Canada on boats? The class starts giggling and I’m off the hook and we move on to the next question.

Which involved garden gnomes. Apparently there are a ton of them in France and in Switzerland, where a bunch of my fellow classmates were from. The professor told us a ridiculous story about some people who decided that gnomes have the right to be free, and thus went around stealing them from other people’s gardens. I was shocked to find that some of the other students knew about this “Society for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes”. The members of this society believe that garden gnomes shouldn’t have to stay in the same garden all their lives, so they move them around. Seriously?! How is this a thing?!

During the second half of class, we had to write our own tricky interview questions and then ask our partners. So I asked my friend, “How many garden gnomes are there in Switzerland?” and she responded that there were definitely more than the number of cows in Canada. I thought it was a pretty good answer, but the professor wasn’t too pleased, probably because we couldn’t stop giggling and disrupting the rest of the class. Too clever for our own good, clearly.

Don’t worry, the cows start flying in Part 2.