September 09, 2004

Sarah in France

Now I know why Sarah feels the way she does about France. It is really quite shocking:

They would pretend not to understand me, even with the simplest sentences. (How hard is it to figure out that I'm asking for stamps when I'm in the post office?) Our teachers would praise the Taiwanese and Japanese speakers and then cringe when the Americans spoke and say things like, "Oh, you really need to get rid of that horrible American accent." Some landlords even banned English in the home, even when three English speakers lived together. Once when four of us Americans were walking down the street, a French person started yelling at us for speaking English to each other, telling us to go home if we wanted to speak English.

I have to smirk, though, at a memory of my own that comes to mind. In Israel the situation is quite different. Israelis love to practice their English on you. It is a big barrier to learning the language, especially when their English is better than your Hebrew. One of my tricks when a first came to Israel was to pretend not to understand them. Eventually they’d switch to Hebrew.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 9, 2004 02:09 PM
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So that's what I have to do!
Israeli's also love to help you out if you are trying to speak Hebrew. They will correct you if you are wrong, but they try and do it nicely.

What is funny though is when I speak (poorly) in Hebrew to them, and they speak (much better than I speak Hebrew, you are right) English to me. It is rather comic.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at September 9, 2004 02:44 PM Permalink

David, the stories about France get worse and worse: how I lived in a bad part of town and faced vicious attackers on numerous occasions, how my landlord told me that she'd wanted a Brit but had gotten stuck with an American, how I wasn't allowed to have visitors or use the telephone and had to pay to keep items in her refrigerator, how our study abroad coordinator told us up front that she hated Americans and hated our country, how our teachers ridiculed us, how people would throw trash at us if they overheard us speaking English, ad nauseum.

When I came home and gave up on French, I started on Swedish. When I lived there, the Swedes were overjoyed that someone would try to learn their language, and they were very helpful and encouraging. I have also found that the Germans praise my limited ability in German too...which is not surprising: since most military families don't make the effort, it's exciting when one does.

Posted by: Sarah at September 9, 2004 03:36 PM Permalink

Well, I'm not so fond of the French, but my dislike is more directed towards the Quebecers here in Canada. I don't like them, and I assure you, they don't like me either.

Posted by: celestial blue at September 9, 2004 08:44 PM Permalink

Very few people have been as overjoyed to hear me stumble over a couple of words in their language as Israelis. Simply saying "toda raba" to waitresses was enough to ensure dazzling smiles and double helpings, and when by the end of my solitary week there I could puzzle out simple orders from the menu, they were practically asking me to marry them! I'm going back just as soon as I can wangle it (I work for an Israeli company).

I didn't have any horror stories about France, but my French carries an Italian accent, so I would hardly have experienced the same vicious attitudes that Sarah did.

However, I can say that Germans are very reluctant to speak German to foreigners - it took me six months or so before I could persuade people not to switch into English immediately... Admittedly, the other foreigners there did set a particularly bad example!

Posted by: Dominic at September 13, 2004 05:49 PM Permalink

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