Sunday, February 03, 2008

I Speaka Zee English.

Everytime FrenchBoy and I go out on the weekend to do shopping or running errands we have a moment where mid-discussion we realize people are staring at us. Why? Because we’re speaking English. This weekend in particular, we were enjoying our very mediocre Tex-Mex lunch at a local restaurant and the family at the next table was not so subtly listening in on our chit-chat. Finally when they got up to leave, their young son said to the mother something to the effect of “They aren’t speaking French.” And she replied, “No, They’re speaking English.” At which point I promptly spoke up to clarify that I was not English, but American. Ya know, Just for the record. I mean....I don't even drink tea.



It amazes me that while we live in a very international corner of France that people will actually stop and stare and try to listen to our conversations. When I first moved to France I would intentionally speak quieter in public because I was so uncomfortable about all the attention that speaking English brought. Now, I just clearly don't give a rat's ass, but I do always wonder about these people. Are they listening to see if they can actually understand? I mean, what’s the big deal? Seriously. I'm asking.

The funniest part of this phenomenon is how surprised people are when they realise that FrenchBoy is in fact....French. That's right folks. He's French and he speaks English! You can literally see the flash of confusion rush over people's faces as we randomly switch back and forth between languages mid sentence. (Our future children will no doubt be fluent in neither language if we keep this nonsense up.) Sometimes I do it on purpose just to see if I can make the cashier's head explode. No luck thus far.

Maybe I’m a bit New York jaded and think I’ve seen and heard everything, but it doesn’t phase me one bit when I hear people speaking Mandarin or Japanese while I’m in France….or anywhere else for that matter. And I of course wouldn’t think to actually try to listen in on their conversation. Dude---I don’t speak Mandarin or Japanese (Although wish I did) so what do I care?

So you tell me: what gives? Why are the folks in my corner of France so damn surprised or curious when they hear French Boy and I speaking English in the grocery store?

5 comments:

Cherise said...

Confession time: We do that in San Antonio when we hear someone speaking French. DH will eavesdrop (although he's pretty subtle about it). Usually he's trying to pick up the accent to figure out where they're from. But to be fair, we don't hear French spoken very often, and part of it is wondering if we want to strike up a conversation and make new friends.

I don't blink an eye with Spanish, which is as common as English, or most other languages except for maybe Thai, for the same reason as French. There are not a lot of Thai speakers, I like to see if I can still understand it, and I'm trying to figure out if I want to make new friends...

We've had the same experience in CH when speaking English, though, and it does make me self-conscious. I think the French speakers tend to be a lot more obvious when they stare.

Le Tigre said...

When I ever heard French people in Australia I was always eavesdropping because I wanted to see how much I could understand and I was curious too. Also I think in our part of France people are always like "wow! English speakers" and excited about anyone non-German visiting. And people are always surprised that C is French, I think because they didn't expect that I'd have a French partner for some reason...

Linda said...

I have this happen all of the time too-lots of double looks and some sort of amazement. My husband speaks English too. I don't know if I should feel special or not.

Aaron Grunwald said...

Some of them probably don't know if you're speaking English or not. They might think you're Dutch. 8-)

anji said...

Yea, usually they're trying to figure out where you are from exactly... my friends from germany and I, went to Niagara Falls... on the tour bus, they were able to pin-point the germans... obviously, but amazingly so, able to pin-point actual CITIES based on the type of german they were speaking, words used, or the accent. Pretty cool. I guess though the same thing here... I'm not french but - I can mostly tell what part of Quebec someone is from, or if they are an easter or a wester based on their accent... Manitoba has weird french... even in my city, we have about 6 neighbouring french communities and I can almost tell which ones are from where, even if they are speaking english which is weird.

I'm sure it's a talent that will never be fully appreciated by people and is a waste :P But it's fun!