Just Be Nice

If you’ve ever tried, I mean really tried, to learn a language, this probably doesn’t apply to you. If you’ve ever tried to master that “r” roll or learn the subtle phonetic differences between “fait” and “fée”, then you wouldn’t need this reminder.

I wouldn’t think anyone would need it, but as it turns out, there are those who are so secure in their own sense of importance and belonging that they feel they have the right to look down on and mock others who aren’t quite as “native” as they are. Although I have a theory that it’s not their security that pushes them to assert themselves this way, but rather their lack there of. No, I can’t take credit for that theory. Everyone knows people who put other people down only do it to build themselves up. That doesn’t come from a place of confidence or self-love.

Today I was walking to class when I was accosted by some mec who wanted to sell me some damn foie gras. (Okay, already the answer is no. Try selling croissants next time, buddy.)

Excusez-moi, on est pressées,” I said. “Sorry, we’re in a hurry.”

That’s fair, right? This is a college campus, and not even the sprawling, multifaceted, UT type. Virtually everyone within these gates are in class or on their way there; and surprise, I’m one of them. Also sorry (not sorry) but.. I don’t want your damn goose paste! (Terminology compliments of Sally Buice.) I’m all about gastronomical, cultural immersion, but I think I’ll just run and get a crêpe, or some coffee, maybe those croissants I mentioned earlier, instead. Maybe I’m alone in this, but in my opinion, there are many ways to experience the la cuisine française without eating the liver of the fattest goose on the farm. And before you go accusing me of ethnocentrism, I would say the same thing regarding southern dining and giblets. It just ain’t necessary, y’all. Also, for the record, I ate two snails in the name of cultural assimilation. So there.

You may be asking yourself: What does this have to do with learning a second language? Or were we talking about bullies and self confidence? Wait, did you say goose liver? What’s going on here??

All valid questions.

It all comes together with what followed my response to this young man’s attempt at selling me the organ of a fat bird in a form which is way too similar to cat food.

……..He made fun of me!


Can you believe it? He mocked my accent (Or maybe my word choice?) as I was walking away. It wasn’t in good fun either. Believe me, I could tell. Either way, I realize this isn’t a heart-breaking or life-shattering occurrence.

“Didn’t you say you were getting tougher over there?” you might ask. “Didn’t you say you weren’t letting things get you down anymore?”

Astute observation, and more excellent questions! (The audience that I imagine to read these blogs is very observant, not to mention great in numbers and supportive and receptive to my profound thoughts and feelings. They also think I’m cool and pretty.)

It’s true couple months ago something like this would have resulted in tears as opposed to me giving him the finger as I walked away, which I may or may not have done. But it’s not so much how much or little this guy affected me as it is the principle of the thing.

I mean, first of all, WHO THE HECK MOCKS THE CUTE FOREIGN GIRL TRYING REAL HARD TO LEARN YOUR LANGUAGE? I’ve never seen anything like it. Lord help the sucker who tries that on someone else back at home if I’m around. I’m not confident in my ability to tear someone apart with my French words, but I sure can do it with my English ones. I’m also a black belt. Watch. Out.

Secondly, there’s a lot wrong with my French. I have the vocabulary of a person half my age, my grip on French grammar is less-than-parfait, and as far as my accent is concerned, I’m far from being mistaken for a native French speaker. (Except when I’m speaking Spanish. That’s not a joke.) But among those problems, my accent is the least pressing. My accent is not the thing that makes me seize up when I try to start a conversation or respond in one that’s already started. It’s something I’ll probably always work on, but it’s not high on my list on insecurities.

.. But what if it was?

This guy has clearly never been abroad. This guy have never put himself out there trying to learn to speak the language that virtually every person in the country has been speaking their whole lives. This guy is the snarky representation of the stereotype that keeps Americans from coming to France. It’s what makes them speak in English instead of learning the basics and working through a coffee shop encounter in a language that isn’t their own. I don’t pretend that’s the only reason. People are lazy and self-centered. But I imagine one key factor is the fear of sounding like a fool in front of people who won’t be so understanding. It’s a fear which is essential to let go of when you’re learning a language, if you hope to get very far. And it’s a fear that is not baseless. Sometimes you’ll confuse the word for condom with the word for preservatives. You’ll literally say the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say because the words for “buy” and “sell” are linked in your mind. It’s bound to happen, and you can’t take it too personally when people laugh.

It’s funny when you mix up the words condom and preservatives.

It just is.

Others finding humor in your mistakes is natural, and it takes the pressure off if you laugh along.

But you just CAN’T mock a person, especially when you’re trying to sell them something.

That’s just bad business, am I right?

And it’s rude.

And it’s mean.

So just don’t do it.

I don’t know, I guess that’s all.

Just be nice.


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