Monday, March 15, 2010

If You're French, this Post is Probably Going to Piss You Off

Looks like a woman from behind, no? Colorful poncho, nice lovely
gray hair pulled back by a wooden barrette...but it's a dude, in a suit.

Throughout the years, I've bitched aplenty on this blog. For the most part, something gets under my skin, I come home, angrily type out a few paragraphs and send my frustration out into the world. More often than not, I feel better after I get whatever is bothering me off my chest and read some angry responses (go home, you're stupid, etc.). For the most part, I prefer living in Paris (even though I have never wanted to stay here) to living in Arkansas. Actually, if I were a praying women, I would send up a request daily begging never to return to my home state. And for the most part, I can handle all the bullshit that comes with being an expat/foreigner with a smile or a small gripe-fest with friends.

However, the one thing I have never, ever gotten over, or will get over for that matter, is how rude some people can be here. I have tons of examples, but the thing that irritates me the most is how almost every French person I speak with feels the need to tell me how badly I speak or pronounce French.

Now, I will openly admit, I don't practice French enough. I don't/haven't taken any classes because I really don't care if I learn French. I know this is a terrible attitude and I am not defending it, but I never expected to live here for more than a year (how it got to be 5 years, I will never understand), so going to classes never appealed to me. When I have spare time, I prefer to spend it at a museum or exercising, not going to a class where a teacher can tell me how badly I speak French. And you'd be surprised how easy it is to live here without speaking the language. So yes, I absolutely, unequivocally admit, I suck at French. I understand damn near everything I hear, but my spoken French is probably not much better than a 4 year old's.

Normally, I do not strike up a conversation with someone I don't know. So if I am speaking to someone in French, I either know them (which makes the whole, "Oh my god, you're French is so terrible," comment even harder to take) or it is some random stranger who starts talking to me in a public place. In the US, I probably wouldn't respond to these people, but here, I just think, "Eh, here's a good chance to practice my conversational skills without feeling too stupid." I should know better. I always end up regretting this thought because without fail the person who started speaking to me ends up making some hateful comment about my level of French.

The most recent occurrence happened last Friday. I went for a walk in a neighborhood I've hitherto avoided because it isn't the best place in the world to go for a promenade. But the weather is getting better and I definitely wanted to see the area before leaving so I decided to suck it up, hide my wallet and brave it. I wasn't on the street for more than two minutes before a guy popped up beside me and started chatting. He walked with for about ten minutes, the whole time conversing in French with me responding in French. I did not say ONE English word. When I'd had enough of the the general, creepy conversation, I told him bye and said I was off to meet my husband (good way to get rid of pesky men fast). At this point, he decided that he should let me know just how badly I spoke French. Not only did he tell me my pronunciation was terrible, but also my conjugation and my verb usage was embarrassing. He even hinted that I might possibly be mentally challenged and should be tested because there are special programs in France for people who have "difficulties".

I hate to say that I will always recall incidences like these after I leave Paris because I have had some really great experiences here, but it just feels like things like this happen all too often for me to remember my time here with much more than a lukewarm feeling. I hope that after I've lived elsewhere for a few years, I will reflect and dreamily say, "Ah, Paris...," but most days I just can't think of many things I will miss once I am gone.


buffalodick said...

He would have loved my one year of French I took in 9th grade...

Zhu said...

I must be masochist: I read this post and couldn't wait to get pissed off as a French!

But... must be my Canadian side. I just found myself nodding all along. Trust me, I understand and agree: French people are slightly neurotic when it comes to the so-called proper language use.

When I visited France a few years ago, my parents' friends made a point of making me talk for like five minutes and then stated: "yes, you got some Québécois accent". Er... how? I live in Ontario and seldom speak French (that was before I taught French). Never mind. To them, I was bound to have a Québec accent so that was it.

In Paris, I occasionally spoke English in stores because I was tired of people ignoring me when I spoke French (I was going back and forth between the two languages because of Feng). Never mind people's English was terrible. It seemed like they'd rather embarrass themselves speaking a foreign language than risking to hear me embarrass myself speaking... yep, my mother tongue.

Oh, and ask any Québécker... they absolutely hate when French people perfectly understand what they mean but correct them anyway.

Don't worry. I'm sure your French is just fine. French are just a bit weird...

Oh, and a last anecdote I just remembered: I sent Feng to buy some stuffs at the boulangerie once. He has never learned French, he just knows a couple of words he picked up here and there. He pointed to some croissants, pain au chocolat etc. saying s'il vous plait. It was pretty obvious he didn't speak French... yet the boulanger gave him a whole 15 minutes long French language lesson!

Er... sure, thanks :-D

Angela in Europe said...

Zhu-I have a friend. He's French, has lived in France or London his entire life. French is his mother tongue. He learned English at school and then became an English teacher. One night, I went to a party with him and he was speaking to other French people, in French, and occasionally translating a few words or sentences for me. When he stepped out of the room, all the other people starting exclaiming that his French was pretty good, but that his accent was a bit Canadian...he's never lived in Canada. They thought just because he was speaking to me in a British accent (when he spoke English), he couldn't possibly be French. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

Contented Single said...

I lived in Paris myself for a while (I'm Australian), and whilst it was a dream come true, I can't say that the French were the warmest of people. Bit snobby and affected. Had a French boyfriend who loved how natural and down to earth I was.

Vagabonde said...

I just read your post, so I am a bit late to comment. But if it makes you feel better I’d like to say that I have lived most of my life in the USA but I still have a strong French accent. When I meet someone they always say “where are you from?” which I think is kind of rude when you don’t know someone, but then if I don’t pronounce a word 100% right, I’ll have to repeat and repeat. I could tell you many stories about living in the US as a French expat – many from quite rude Americans. French people may not all be friendly, but there are many more like them here in the US. Actually I was fired from a job because I had a French accent.