Saturday, November 29, 2008

An open letter to the French people

To my fellow citizens,

I have lived on your soil for over five years, four of them as a bone fide French citizen. I have followed your soccer matches, I have sampled your cheeses. I have absorbed your language thoroughly enough to make idiotic mistakes in my mother tongue, like adding an extra "p" to apartment or inserting unnecessary spaces before semicolons and exclamation marks. I have even learned to swear and may be unwittingly transmitting this skill to the next generation.

I have read up on your history, and I know when the Capetien Dynasty gave way to the Valois and the Valois to the Bourbon. Although my understanding of the events of the Revolution may still be rudimentary, it isn't for lack of study.

I vote. I laugh at Louis de Funes' films. I eat foie gras at Christmas and drink rosé in August. When abroad, I defend your cuisine and your politics, even if some specialties are best enjoyed without a close examination of all of the ingredients.

I not only understand the phrase métro-boulot-dodo, but am oddly grateful that I get to consider the Parisian daily grind my own.

I am a food snob who would make Brillat-Savarin proud. I haven't eaten at a McDonalds since 1997, and I eschew the frozen food marvels of Picard Surgelés. Last Wednesday I made my own madeleines from scratch. From scratch!

So I humbly ask, when will you stop switching mid-sentence to a labored English when your hear me utter two words in French? When will you stop asking me "where do you live?" and look so surprised by my response? I know you're just trying to be friendly and helpful. I know that if I live here until I'm ninety I will never lose my petit accent. Yet with your best intentions, you're making me fumble too many conversations in boutiques and supermarkets and I'm getting tired of it.

You see, my heavily-accented but fluent French is usually much better than your serviceable high school English. Yet to avoid offending you, I continue in English and I end up embarrassing myself because -- believe it or not -- I don't know the script. Merci beaucoup, bonne journée, au revoir roll off my tongue so much more easily here than an artificial "thanks, good bye!" I feel like I'm playing the part of a tourist, but I assure you, I've gone native.

Go ahead and chuckle, if you must, when I flatten your Rs and your Us and confound the genders of your nouns. But keep it to yourself and keep talking with me in French, and I'll do my best to pretend not to notice.

Your faithful concitoyenne,



Isabelle said...

I think that, we, the French people, are trapped by our bad reputation with tourists. You know, this reputation of being so unwelcoming, even rude sometimes, the take it or leave it attitude etc.
Then there is our government saying: "The French MUST be nice with tourists, tourism is one of our principal source of income for our economy blah blah blah..."

And I read in different expat blogs how people are frustrated when they try to speak French and get answered in (bad) English.

I don't know what to do, really, because I'm this French person who will switch to English when hearing a tourist trying to say something in French. I think it's a reflex, I can't help it (lol)!!!

Voilà my feelings, it's a tough situation, I know.

PS: Bravo for the homemade madeleines, Parisienne, they taste so much better this way don't they?

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Oh, yeah, and homemade madeleines are so worth the effort! I thought I was the only one who bothered, I'm glad to learn I'm not.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Of course, this letter is meant to be tongue in cheek. I'm not offended when people switch to English, just amused and a bit embarrassed when my French is better than their English but I feel like I have to play along.

I think that most of France's reputation for rudeness to tourists is the fault of Parisians being, well, Parisians. Parisians treat each other relatively rudely a high percentage of the time, and they aren't about to make an exception for hapless tourists.

I also have noticed that sometimes French people who aren't comfortable with English sound hostile when they're trying to speak the language. It's as if they are so worried about getting it right that they speak the words with extra force.

Or maybe everyone sounds frustrated when they're speaking a foreign language. Or maybe I'm just imagining things.

Roy Evan Burstiner said...

It's all just communication. It's very funny because at work I have a very nice old chinese lady who comes in, doesn't speak a word of english, but with just a series of hand gestures, counting of fingers, we both manage to know what each other is trying to say (it does take me longer to help her, but she is a sweet old lady. I have lot's of foreign tourists in my place with lot's of broken english, but they are always very polite, & that is the important thing I find.
I think the problem your having too, is that there are probably lots of French people who want to practice their english because it's "cool" just like all us english speaking people want to practice our french.

Lynn said...

PMP,.....or maybe you have TAIPS (The American in Paris Syndrome)! I suffered from it for years! (LOL!)

Then years ago I finally accepted the fact that no matter how long I lived in Paris (10, 20, or even 30 years!) my slight American accent was going to hinder me from being otherwise incognito, and the frustrations just slipped away and I could embrace the fact, rather than hide it.

You'll save yourself a lot of frustration by not letting it bother you!