‘Why can’t they speak English?’

In the interests of editorial balance, following last week’s feature aimed at our new local readers from Le Quotidien de Faire-Le-Dodo (87), which sought to explain the inability – or reluctance – of the incomers to speak French, today we deal with the thorny matter of the language barrier from the expats’ point of view.

* * * * * * * * *

Let me guess: you chose to live in France because you love the country and the lifestyle.


But your biggest stumbling block is the language.


You try to parler Français, but it’s a bit of a struggle and you sometimes get frustrated, not least by the reluctance of the locals to meet you halfway by essaying a bit of English themselves.

‘Why can’t they speak English?‘ After all, shouldn’t they be grateful that you’ve paid good money for their decaying and otherwise worthless buildings, parted with at least as much again locally on doing them up and are now spending your hard-earned UK pension in the local shops?

Besides,  a mere 700 years ago this part of France was ours anyway, wasn’t it? All we’re doing is taking it back, one barn conversion at a time.

This may be all well and good – although probably not – but actually there are quite a few good reasons why your neighbours are unlikely to make any concessions on the language front. Consider the following:

  • ‘They‘ are wondering why you won’t speak French.
  •  French is their native tongue.
  • You do know you’re in France, right?
  • You need the practice a lot more than they do.
  • Like you, the locals probably never learned a foreign language at school and even if they did, they’ve forgotten it all by now.
  • And, unlike you, they don’t actually need to learn another one.
  • English is a difficult language. Be honest: if you weren’t a native English speaker yourself, wouldn’t you struggle to pronounce this phrase properly: ‘tough trough, though’ Not that it’s particularly likely to crop up in everyday conversation, admittedly.
  • They know we find their accent very funny. But that’s OK: we sound pretty odd too when we try to talk in French.
  • Incidentally, pointing out that if it wasn’t for us they’d all be speaking German is, as a general rule, not helpful. Or relevant.
  • Nor are passing references to Waterloo, Trafalgar or Agincourt (or Crecy, or Poitiers…).
  • 1066 (and all that).

So, in the interests of amicable cohabitation, let’s just agree to smile and gesticulate. It usually works.

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