A warm welcome to our new readers from ‘Le Quotidien de Faire-le-Dodo (87)’, following the merger announced last week.
One of my key tasks in this new joint venture is to promote greater understanding between the local and expat communities. With this in mind, I’m sure that my already-established readership won’t mind if, in this first post-merger piece, I address our new French friends.
In particular, I want to try and answer one of the most commonly-asked questions the local population has about their new neighbours: ‘pourquoi ils ne seront pas parler français?’ Which means ‘why won’t they speak French?’ And, English readers, if you needed me to translate that for you, it rather proves their point, wouldn’t you say?
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Well, mes amis, this language question is complicated, n’est ce pas?
As you may have noticed, most of your new expat neighbours are, to put it delicately, of a certain age. Not unlike yourselves, the demographics of Faire-Le-Dodo (87) being what they are. This means that most of them either were never taught any French at school, or have had half a century to forget what little they ever knew about la plume de ma tante.
Whatever the Academie Française might think, it can’t be denied that English is a global language, much more so than French. We Brits have therefore never been under the same pressure as other nations to learn a foreign language, Well, apart from American. Look, it’s alright for you: when you watch ‘Breaking Bad’ on TV it’s dubbed into French – we don’t even get subtitles.
The crucial point about the language barrier is that there’s a big difference between ne parlera pas (won’t speak) and ne peut pas parler (can’t speak).
I’m certainly not going to try and defend the small majority of British people who come to live in France but refuse to make any effort to fit in. Just like you, we don’t understand why they moved here in the first place. You’re quite right to be irritated and frankly we find them rather embarrassing.
It’s also worth pointing out that a lot of people who you might think aren’t making any effort to speak French would be quite offended if you told them so. Rest assured: they are trying. You’ve all heard expats talking – in what, admittedly, does sound quite a lot like English – very slowly and loudly, and probably adding ‘o’ to the end of every other word. The language you are actually hearing is ‘foreign’ – apart from English the other global lingua franca, of which French is just the local dialect.
The great majority of us therefore fall into the ‘can’t speak’ camp, but at least we’re trying to make ourselves understood in French. It’s just that, although we’re willing enough, we’re not very able. And, being British, we are very reluctant to draw attention to ourselves by talking with a ‘funny’ accent. You have to remember that, as far as we’re concerned, anybody who sounds like they grew up more than twenty miles from where we did has a funny accent.
Eh bien, dear readers, I hope that this has clarified matters a little and reassured you that most expats do sincerely want to be able to converse with you in French. Next time, I’m going to try and explain to the Brits why you lot don’t speak English.
Merci pour votre compréhension.