(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

franglais. or anglais en france.

In the time that I've been here, I've heard my share of opinions regarding the English. Particularly the English in the Dordogne. Most of what I have heard has been from the French. Then last week, when my internet arrived and I had some heavy duty surfing moments, I was googling various combinations of expatriate integration into France.

I read some really eyebrow singe-ing articles and comments. One was written by an English couple living here, bemoaning the lack of participation by the English in French life (here in France). They recounted a recent evening at the village fete and being the only English attendees from a village with many English dwellers. They made some comments about how this widened an existing gap. Commenters to this online article were indignant. Some went so far as to saying ... "So what if we don't want to be a part of French life, maybe we are here for the weather!! Its our business, isn't it?"

That got me to thinking about my attendance at my own village fete. No, I hadn't "seen" many English at the lunch tables. I didn't see the local Irish B&B owners. I thought also of the night market I attended in Thiviers. And how I looked and looked for the owners of the Thiviers hotel ... nowhere to be seen. This night I was with Marjo and Rodolphe, the agency owners from Thiviers who do not live in Thiviers proper ... but participate in town life as much as possible. Now of course it could absolutely also be that these folks were there and I didn't see them.

I have been told by my French friends that the English they know are insular. They socialize with each other, form their own clubs, have their own bars/restaurants they frequent, support English businesses where ever possible. and on and on. I've met English who tell me the French are unapproachable, unfriendly despite many attempts. The truth must lie somewhere in between, eh?

On the other hand, I've now begun meeting some English and like everything else, there is more variety there than what appears on the surface. For example, I've met the local B&B owners and they have had a terrible time since moving here a few years back. Trouble is, most of that terrible time was served them by an English criminal who had a fraudulent building business and took them for nearly $100k US. They chose this fellow because he was English. This has soured them a bit on France, but they are stuck. They have been kinder than kind and given me various tips for things I need. Like dog sitting.

They introduced me to another English couple that I met yesterday. Been here about 5 years or so, first as holiday-makers and now full time. The gentleman tells me he would really like to improve his French. Then sheepishly admitted no classes had been attempted but he wants to try!

At the thai curry dinner last week, the English to French ratio was about 80:20. The English folks were gregarious towards me, and had lots of stories for me. Many of which began with "The French this and the French that." And not in kind terms. One particular instance was mocking the French builders/workers way of doing things. How it takes so long, and they disappear. I recounted the tale of my new Irish acquaintances. How much better off they would have been with a French builder. Awkward silence ensued. At the same event, I met another couple (the artist and his girlfriend) who own a nightclub up the way. Her French was marvellous. The French in attendance appeared to all be friends of this young and energetic couple. She tells me their clientele is 90+ percent French. They've been here 3 years and have achieved integration.

The owners of this Irish hotel live in a little village near Brantome with their 2 kids. Their French too is superb. And in my French class I have an English couple, an English woman and an American woman. All working to improve their French. I was immediately drawn to the English couple ... living 1/2 time here, 1/2 time in France. Moved here because everyone was so kind, she says. Notices few English in everyday French life and thinks it is a shame. Keeps trying to get acquainted with their French neighbors, no matter how difficult it seems. Loving every minute of every day and as positive as they come.

One common theme I've heard with ALL of the characters met above is this. If one wants to achieve ANY level of integration, one must develop at least a rudimentary command of the language.

I see a huge influx of English every Friday in the market. They can't ALL be vacationers. Because of course there are tons of French too. But where do they all go after market?

Okay, this hasn't been too insightful has it? After 5 weeks here, I'm hesitant to proffer judgments or conclusions. At this point I'll just say that it is obviously like every other stereotype to be found out there. So many shades of grey exist. I'm reserving further opinions until I've had more time to look closely. I've seen truth in the the judgments. And exceptions.

But I'm definitely leaning in the French direction. Along with some of my non-French acquaintances. We're here for the French. The French culture. lifestyle. PEOPLE. wine. landscape. LANGUAGE. and that certain indescribable je ne sais quoi.

I for one definitely did not move halfway around the world for the weather.


Samantha said...

I can only speak for Bretagne, but in my experience there, 75% of the Brits there were there for the cheap property prices & close proximity to the UK, not because they loved France. With the influx of cheap flights, they were able to either commute back to the UK or have a holiday home in Bretagne for very cheap prices. But since they weren't here for the French, they tended to keep to themselves, shop at the Brit stores, go to the British-owned pubs, etc and not speak much French. You should see the sheer number of vans/trucks on UK plates that drive off the ferries - it's pretty damn scary. The worst part is that they're all full of DIY materials because French DIY products are "crap/expensive/ugly/fill in the blank here".

So as you can tell, I'm not a fan of the Brits that tend to move to France, because I think a lot of them move for the 'wrong' reasons, meaning they feel no need to integrate. They want to "profite" of life in France - open spaces, farmers markets, etc without giving anything back to their community. I do concede that it's not everyone, and that the other 25% really do make an effort though.

I'll leave you with just one last story of a tiny Breton village. So many Brits had moved there that they outnumbered the French in town. Apparently there is a little-known EU directive that says that if the majority of residents speak X language, they can ask that the schooling be taught in that language. So they hired themselves a lawyer and tried to force the commune to turn the school into an English-speaking school! In France! I don't know....that was really the drawing point for me.

Randal Graves said...

Between this post and Samantha's comment, I can only come up with variations on calling such refuseniks limey bastards.

I don't know, I'd want to move to country x, y or z to be part of that culture because I WANTED to, because I dig various facets of the place. I cannot comprehend such a mindset.

Je ne regrette rien said...

Samantha-we discussed this a bit in language class today. I am loathe to categorize...and I am CERTAIN that Americans here also have some tendencies that on the whole will be distasteful. But I agree that it is incomprehensible to be so selfish ... no matter what your origination.

RG- ha!

Also ... in class today I 'borrowed' a book entitled The Xenophobe's Guide to the English. The Englishman sitting next to me let me know he had read the book and it was pretty accurate.

I hope I gain some additional insight that might balance the view.

I had lunch today with a lovely English couple who IS in fact integrating ... taking part in village activities, learning French etc ... and they live here about 4-5 months of the year.

More to come on this topic.

Our Juicy Life said...

When we were in the Dordogne we stayed in a GITE owned by a retired british couple. I didn't know they were british when I booked as it was all on the internet. When we arrived I was so exicted to speak french and found they didn't. They had been in France for 5 years and didn't speak the language, didn't want to...what? They had friends over, all brits, none spoke french. Was told that many villages around there were loosing all the french people because the young kids wanted to get out to get a proper job, not farm like the father, so the brits come in and purchase cheap property and take over the village. We spent more time down the road with Madame Chartoney an 85 year old woman who spoke NO english, although she was horrified that her tiny area of the world was being taken over by the brits. Most of the brits I met were older, so they were stuck in their ways...maybe the younger couples, individuals come over for the love of france to learn the langague and integrate themselves in french life.

In our region - Aveyron - we didn't see any brits, maybe that was just good luck. Although I heard the Tarn and Lot are full of them. Them...like they are something other than human.

We love France, we love the language, we love the countryside, the history, the people....if I was moving for the weather then I'm moving to the wrong place, becaue I come from sunny southern california and i'll be living with seasons now. ouch. but I'll be speaking and learning french and learning about people who love their country and enjoying each day learning something new.

Randal Graves said...

Hell, the Americans here have it, and that's in the comfort of their home. I see it when some of them interact with the international students, many of whom don't have the best English. I try to sympathize because I know I'd constantly make a linguistic ass of myself over there.

We'll all screw up now and then, but there's no reason to be a tool about things.

La Framéricaine said...

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here, that is not insignificant, is that the British and the French were at war with one another, actively, during the eponymous 100 Years War. Hello! And have been passively at war for even longer...

I'm not going to show off my ignorance here by going any further with the historical background on their relationship but the Kings of England tried to be the Kings of France, "thus precipitating the Hundred Years War":


So, suffice it to to say, from my point of view, that these two countries have a very incestuous, love/hate relationship. Have you seen the stats lately on where the young French people are going to seek employment? London, anyone? And "Little Paris" chez les Brits? I saw it on TV!!! I'm smiling now.

The whole "cheap property buying" thing is no different in France than the never-ending gentrification process in the States, or anywhere else on earth and, as is often stated, the French did not have to sell off their country to "foreigners."

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that the English are taking somewhat of a bad rap in France--in much the same way that the Mexicans take in SoCal, in particular, and elsewhere in the US. Both groups make easy targets for those inclined to aim.

We here all have in common a deep-seated desire to speak French, so it would never occur to us to go to France and not make every effort to integrate in the name of accomplishing that specific goal and everything associated with it.

However, notice that we are all Americans or United Statesians to be PC. We, too, had a war with England and, to tell the truth, nothing makes my hair stand on end like entering the hovercraft for the British Isles and hearing all those English accents. And I've English ancestors all my very own!

You might also be interested to know that in central France it is the Dutch that I heard the DIY complaints about. A Poitiers urologist told me that "those people" bought property, brought their own DIY stuff, even their own food, did not learn the language, and did not contribute to the local economy. That was a doctor talking!

For my part, I'm proud to be among you, the ardent French language learners and will be willing to speak to anyone in France in French and highly unlikely to spend much time with people who do not make a good faith effort to do likewise. It's a question of time and the principle of the matter.

Vive la langue française!

Je ne regrette rien said...

LaF~ yes that is true and such a common fact I guess I overlooked mentioning ... I can't say I agree at all with your comparison of Mexicans living in the U.S. to Brits living in France. For one thing, Mexico is a 3rd world country, their citizens coming to the U.S. are rarely arriving to inhabit a vacation home ... not to mention that the majority of Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally would love nothing more than to integrate.

I also think that while some French youth are going to the U.K. to work, build careers etc., that doesn't give a free pass to Brits, who are foreigners in France, to disrespect their hosts.

As far as the Dutch go, yes I've heard tales of them and their isolationism as well.

I look at it like this. I was taught never to arrive empty-handed as a guest. Bring something to and/or for the table. How is it any different as travellers?

I shudder to think of past travelling companions who barge their way through a foreign land, loudly demanding what is common at home but unknown where they are guests...whether it is Mexico, Europe, North Africa ... respect and honor the traditions of the land that is not your own (unless of course they are abusive or harmful).

La Framéricaine said...

Lest we have a misunderstanding, I think that you understood my comparison of English immigrants in France and Mexican immigrants in the USA completely opposite from my own point, which was that, regardless of national origin, any immigrant group that gains a noticeable presence in any location risks being scapegoated by its hosts for real, for imagined, transgressions.

Berry Deep France is an English blogger with a very educational and thoughtful blog. La petite angalise, ditto. They both speak French.

I would also posit that we are, as usual, talking about class more than about cultural affiliation. If you have money to burn, you don't have to integrate. If you don't have a pot to piss in, cultural integration is virtually impossible for adults and with luck with come for the children of immigrants.

Lastly, I never go on a trip looking for peanut butter, graham crackers, chocolate chips, or, even, McDo. But that's just me. And I bet money, it's you, too, Dahlink!


Non, Je ne regrette rien said...

LaF-you are right, I did misunderstand. As usual, you can read my mind and straighten me out ... thanks!