Thursday, October 05, 2006

Integrate this; aka Integration does not equal assimilation

Answer this question honestly. And not as my friend or relative. Upon hearing foreigners of whatever variety speak a language other than English to their children or amongst themselves in a group, what is your reaction?

You don't have to answer in the comments, I was just wondering.

Yesterday I went to the shoe repair shop to have my very very very favorite boots fixed. I got them 10 years ago from a friend. We traded. I gave her a vintage black wool short-waisted jacket (that didn't suit my figure) and she gave me her brown American Eagle scrappy cowgirl boots (this was when American Eagle had not yet become whatever they are now). I wore the heels down last winter, the soles were peeling off, and the sides were lifting off the base. I took them in with the boys. I spoke, in French of course, to the shoe repair person who starting taking the boots apart before my very panicked eyes. He stopped and said, "It looks like I'd better wait until you leave. Your eyes are popping out of your head. Don't worry, they'll recover."

At some point the boys started asking me questions, in English of course, about when we were going to the park. After I answered them, in English of course, Mr. shoe repair person said, "Please reassure me and tell me they speak French too." I nearly took offense (shocking, I know), but I decided not to and stayed cool. "Of course they speak French, they live in France and their father is French. I would not live in a country and refuse to speak its language. But that doesn't mean I have to speak it to my kids. Integration, sir, does not equal assimilation."

But, actually, I think for a lot of people, it does.

12 comments:

zeb said...

I will answer this in 2 ways first as your brother- I would have gone nuts but I am biased.

As an American I can only say if we said that to a person from another country it would be a major deal. The shop owner is no doubt a closed minded person who hates USA but I will bet he had not trouble taking your money. So either way it was bull!!

Eric said...

Zenophobia, regardless the extent, really is human nature. Likely a throwback to tribal survival tactics. My own personal view, bilingualism provides a great deal of texture and color the the day to day. And it is only natural for first generation immigrants to have English, Spanish, Italian Farsi or what have you speaking homes. An absolute refusal to become part of your adopted culture is another thing altogether. Don't move to the US and expect to live under islamic law in all aspects of the country. Don't move to Iran and be supprised for getting beaten up for wearing a bikini on the beach. multi culturalism adds flavor but it can be taken too far.

beth said...

First of all I commend you for teaching your boys both English - being bilingual is an enormous plus for several reasons (not to mention open mindedness!) A few words come to mind for your shoe repair man - one being Arrogance. There are several families from France and other countries in the town I live in and most of them speak their native language toward each other. I does not offend me at all, in fact if they are speaking French, I ususally stop them and ask them if they are familiar with the town of Laval. I certainly hope this shoe repair individual repairs shoes better than he chooses his words. Arrogant, Arrogant Man! I would love to be bilingual and am envious of those who are.

christi said...

yup, arrogance and ignorance. having studied other cultures and having visited you a couple times, i don't even turn my head when i hear another language being spoken among individuals. OBVIOUSLY not a universal reaction though...

Lorraine said...

Well, just to go out there and be completely politically incorrect, as much as I appreciate where everyone is coming from on this, I get annoyed when I have to deal with someone on the phone who clearly does not have English as a first language. I'm all for multiculturalism and diversity blah blah blah but when I'm trying to get business taken care of I rather appreciate it when I can understand the person I'm talking to and they can understand me. Which of course doesn't apply in your situation because you speak excellent French.

beth said...

As a side note, a vast majority of my friends will only hire Spanish speaking nannies because they badly want their children to be bilingual. But I do agree with Lorriane - when doing business here at home, it can get annoying when the other individual's English is so poor that I can't understand a word - but that doesn't apply to your siutation - I don't speak French, but when you speak French it sure does sound authentic!

charlie said...

Oh gosh, Nicole, as a linguistics major, you know only too well the relationship between language and thought (oh no, not the eskimos again!). The limits of my language are the limits of my world (or something like that), said Wittgenstein, and he was quite correct. Different symbols = different idioms of thought = different interpretations of the world = potential for misunderstanding = potential for conflict. And so on. A very complex subject, n'est ce pas? And what do I think when I hear a foreign language being spoken in my presence? American English perhaps?

I think... I think... I think... oh, lots of things :o)
CBW

Nicole said...

All - He really wasn't that bad, and I think he just said out loud what a lot of people think, in every country. I can remember being on a bus in Seattle seated next to an elderly woman who ranted for 10 minutes about the Thai family seated across the aisle from us. I didn't join in her rants, I must've know that 15 years later, I'd be in their shoes.

Lorraine and Beth - Oh man, don't even get me started on the heavily accented, nearly-incomprehensible stuff you get on the phone sometimes. I swear, SallieMae hires people with poor English and refuses to give them courses just so that when I call and try to get my student loans into forebearance the call takes an hour, I can't understand the person trying to help me, and I finally give up and pay the stupid thing. Clearly their goal.

CBW - I seriously considered researching the effect on English Speakers (North American ones, that is) of having a langauge devoid of any real subjunctive. I still think there's something there. There's no subtlety, no credit to the speaker, or perhaps too much of it. Je cherche quelqu'un qui sait vs. je cherche quelqu'un qui sache. Le hmmmmm.

Legal Alien said...

My reaction? Nothing. Not even a shrug. But I'm guessing that's a product of growing up in a bilingual region of the U.S. (New Mexico) and a lifetime of interest in the liberal arts and language.

But it's fun to see my three-year-old's excitement in those situations. "They're speaking Spanish! They're speaking Spanish!" He loves it.

charlie said...

Le phew! Go for it. I'm ALL subjunctive, personally speaking. Wouldn't wish it any other way :o)
Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique, is all I would like to add :o)

Anonymous said...

I think that it's fair to say that you will only get that kind of attitude in France and only against the english language too.

In France, the policy seems to be "integrate or else" which is pretty much the opposite of the "celebrate diversity" approach of the english speaking world.

In fact, their approach can cause considerable difficulty within families. We have friends who moved here about 5 years ago and now find that it is quite difficult to communicate with their 10 year old daughter. They did try to integrate and have only French language TV etc. Net effect five years down the line is that their French isn't good enough to communicate with their daughter and her english isn't good enough to communicate with them.

Is that a "successful" integration of their daughter into French life? Somehow, I can't think of it as such.



Arnold
www.foreignperspectives.com

Nicole said...

Hi Arnold - Great blog, by the way, very informative. And thanks for stopping by mine. Re your friends, that's a horrible story (and I can recommend some reading for parents of bilingual kids if they need some more info), although it's been happening in the US for decades in immigrant families. As for the French and their attitudes, I think sometimes they actually express what people elsewhere are thinking but don't dare say. You have a much more favorable view of the English speaking world than I do.