FRANGLISH — HOW WE VIEW EACH OTHER MAY 29 2014
One of the MeetUp groups we’ve joined here meets several times a week at different places, for English and French speakers to practice speaking each others’ languages. It’s a very interesting concept. In fact, Parisians seem fascinated with the US, and many of them speak enough English to communicate about basic concepts, especially relating to their work. Waiters routinely switch languages, depending on the ability of the customer to speak French, for instance. We were surprised when we went to the post office on the corner to open a temporary PO Box, that the clerk we were working with was proud to show off his English. He did pretty well, too. Apparently he’s learned English by watching over and over every episode of “Little House on the Prairie,” in English. He says he owns all of them, plus all the books. Nancy and I both wondered to each other afterwards what his impression is of the US.
The Franglish group is a bit like “speed dating.” Attendees are assigned two to a table, with a French speaker and an English speaker paired up. For 7 minutes, the pair speaks one language and then for the next 7 minutes, they switch languages. Fourteen minutes is long enough to start an interesting conversation, and it’s also short enough that if there’s no juice to the exchange, it doesn’t become totally agonizing. After fourteen minutes the host directs everyone to a different table to start with a different partner. This happens five times during the evening.
The Franglish group we’ve attended twice takes place in the basement “club” of a cafe bar near the Paris City Hall. Both times, the attendance has been almost greater than the space can hold. The French speakers all seem fascinated with New York, and everyone we’ve talked to dreams of visiting that city some day.
Many are younger professionals who want to add English speaking ability to their technical, business, or scientific skills. A couple of the people we’ve spoken with have been interesting people who are thinkers, and ask questions that provoke fascinating discussions. With one, a very extraverted Lebanese fellow who has chosen to live in Paris and who one day will probably go to Senegal to open a business, we have discussed French and American definitions of democracy and how democratic or not each of them is in real life. With another young financial planner, we explored the question of Obama vs. Hollande (both idealistic and essentially ineffective and disliked by the public), and how neither of them is able to do what they want because of the oligarchy of the Far Right and the consequent lack of funds for public services.
With a third Franglish participant, the differences in attitudes toward taking vacations between the French and the Americans came up. His take was that French people, attached to their universal legal 5 weeks of vacation, work hard when they’re working, and are totally on vacation when they’re on vacation, because they have enough time to actually relax when on vacation and vacations are an important part of their lives. He wondered — interestingly — if Americans compensate for our lack of vacation time by slacking off when we are at work. Interesting hypothesis! For the most part, that’s not borne out by our experience, but I’m sure many potential factors could be involved. But another Franglisher, on the same topic, cynically concluded that everywhere things are the same — 20% of the people do much of the work and 80% goof off most of the time.
And then, today, as we took a free morning, we were surfing television channels, enjoying the strong sexual innuendos in many of the advertisements (Ooh la la! That is still very characteristically French!). Watching television ended up feeling surreal, as we watched some minutes of a documentary on fishing and recreation along the North Carolina Coast, with the rich, deep coastal Carolina accents of the people being filmed somewhat obscured by the dubbed French translation. Wouldn’t you know, the last program that marched across our screen before we turned it off was the header for “Little House on the Prairie,” in English?!
In one of the Franglish sessions, someone commented on the rich and complex history of Franco American relations, basically since Benjamin Franklin and John Adams spent years at a time in Paris in the 1700s, learning from discussions with French leaders how to launch the American Revolution and write a new constitution. That fascinating exchange of friendship and influence continues today, and as Americans in Paris, we find how the French see us and interact with us to be one of the most interesting aspects of being here.
So now we’re off to meet with a longtime friend of Nancy’s who moved here 15 or so years ago from Durham, and has become a permanent American expatriate. This will be an interesting continuation of the subject of Franco-American perspectives.