-A Writer's Reflection

Do French speak English?


What an unusual question to ask! Still it was forced into my mind few months ago. I never asked whether American speak Italian or English speak French, but I wondered whether French speak English. The reason, I was to embark on my vacation to France.


After completing my visa procedure and confirming my tickets and itinerary, I declared happily about my upcoming vacation. My friends and colleagues were happy with one warning: “People are not nice there.” Surprisingly, hardly any of them had ever been to France and yet they had confidence in their second hand information. The most common argument for their warning was French people did not speak English. It was like judging a golf player based on his Flamenco dancing skills.


Charles de Gaulle, being an international airport, had all English-speaking officers. However, directions and signs were not all in English. I thought, probably, my friends were not completely wrong. As soon as I walked out of secure area, several taxi drivers flocked around me, quite a change from USA, but not so much from India. One of them, based on how non-French I looked, started speaking in English to me. “Eifel tower? Which hotel?” He guessed right that I was a tourist. I knew I had to take the metro and ignored the taxi driver. He then followed me and spoke a few statements in French. English and French, both spoken fluently by the first person I met in Paris. He didn’t stop there, he spoke in Spanish and finally in Arabic, again fluently, to try and get business out of me. Wow! I looked at him wide eyed and asked, “Where is the metro station?” He disappointedly gave me the right directions and led me to an elevator leading two floors down, from where I could catch the metro.


Recovering from the multilingual French discovery, I went to the information counter and found a strictly French speaking man. I started with saying “Bonjour!” and quickly shifted to English after that. He made an effort with the sign language and little English he knew to guide me successfully to the ticket counter and metro platforms. My first two experiences in Paris were quite different from the warnings.


For the next two days, I went to many places in Paris from Eifel Tower to the Louvre and from Notre Dame to the Petit Palais. I did face difficulty with the language. Yes, I did. Nonetheless, not with the communication! After spending two days in Paris, I spent rest of the week in a small village named Presilly on the French Alpes. Finding English-speaking people was harder and harder as I moved away from Paris. However, I felt more and more at home. Stereotypical judgment was completely missing in those villages and small towns. After spending years in USA, that was a pleasant experience.


After nine days of fun, adventure and other worldly experience, I was at the Charles de Gaulle airport again, sad but satisfied. One last French interaction remained, at the immigration counter of the airport. Interestingly, I was the only one waiting in the line. I was called over by a characteristically French gentleman sitting on the opposite side of the immigration counter. In his forties, he had a stern look of an officer. “Bonjour!” I said approaching the counter and handed over my passport. For a second he didn’t look at me. After looking at my passport, the officer looked up, smiled, and said, “Namaste!” Forget English, he spoke to me in Hindi. Looking at him, he was probably a hundredth generation Frenchman and yet he spoke in Hindi. 


In the end, the assumption that French were not nice because they didn’t speak English was false. Many Americans don’t speak a second language. Even though many French didn’t speak a second language they were accommodating, pleasant and welcoming. I will visit France again and again and again.


Till then au revoir!
Do French speak English? Do French speak English? Reviewed by Mihir on 8:47:00 PM Rating: 5

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