For you non-French speakers: “Here, we speak French.” The “here” being in Aix-en-Provence and the “we” being a man at the bus stop who chastised my friend and I for speaking English. I was totally floored, partly because I couldn’t believe the luck I’d been having lately with old European men (see “The Oinker”) but mostly because this is exactly the kind of rude stereotype that is propagated throughout the world about my current country. This is the event which prompted the status: “The stereotypes continue to perpetuate themselves.” I’ll explain further. This man stated that if he were chez vous, that’s to say the United States, it would be disrepectful to speak anything other than English. Here, in France, it’s the same.
I’m sorry but he clearly has never left his little corner of the Rotonde. The US itself is a melange of languages, Spanish and English mostly, but in any corner of most cities you can hear some dialect, some foreign tongue and I’ve never felt the need to tell them that it’s a matter of respect to speak my language. This man probably would’ve stopped a Cajun speaking French and told him to chagne his dialect because it wasn’t true French.
He stopped talking to us after we said we were d’accord and that we understood. He started again, this time with an example of how if he went to Italy or Germany he would still speak their language, even though he doesn’t know how to. Considering that makes absolutely no sense, I’d love to see how that trip worked out. He’d either be a mute the entire trip or a babbling idiot in between the romantic sounds of French and the harsh syllables of the German language. Good luck, monsieur. He stopped again after this ridiculous example of Franglitian. We tried to return to our conversation – this time in French. He interrupted…again. “C’est pas mechant.” He said, almost trying to convince himself and the others who had started listening to our exchange. It’s not mean? Are you serious? Not only are upholding the standard of being rude, but you’re also upholding the stereotype of the crochety, mean old man.
Few things render me speechless – in fact, for those of you who know me, you probably wish it happened more frequently – but this event caught me so offguard that I’m pretty sure a part of my jaw is still laying on the ground near my bus stop. It’s because of this initial shock factor that all I could say was “d’accord” and “OK.” I even agreed that he wasn’t being mean and I’m pretty sure I said I understood his reasoning. I sat on the bus feeling, not only embarassed having been chastised like a 4 year old by this man in front of a crowd of bus-awaiting francais but also like a complete idiot who couldn’t uphold her sense of self. Could I go back and find that little old man with his brown/orange sweater vest and tufts of gray hair sprouting from his head and ears, it would be a very different conversation. One that probably would’ve upheld the stereotype of a loud ignorant American fighting for her right to speak her language where ever she wants. And maybe he was right – I’m in a french immersion program and should probably be speaking French. But to say it the way he did, maybe doesn’t come across in this article, but was absolutely, well, rude. And to talk about a matter of respect and then talk to us like that? Well that’s just absolutely hypocritcal.