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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stereotypes and Xenophobia

Conversation last night:
Scene: Apartment in Stalingrad, first encounter with other Au Pairs.
Me-Salut! Je suis Robin! Ça va?
D, S-Hi! Nice to meet you!
M-En fait, je préfère parler en français avec vous, ça vous dérangez?
D-Non, bien sur, tu est de ou?
M-Ah je suis américaine, et vous?
(Mexican and German)
S-Mais, quoi? Tu parles pas comme un américaine! T'as pas d'un accent!
M-Merci, c'est gentille.
S-En fait tu parles vraiment meilleure de les autres américaine...

Me-Hi, I'm Robin, How are you all?
D, S-""
M-Actually, I prefer that we speak in French, is that ok?
D-No, of course, where are you from?
M-Oh, I'm American, and you all?
S-What? You don't speak like an American! You don't have an accent!
M-Thank you that's nice.
S-Actually, you speak a lot better than the other Americans I've met.

(What she really meant to say is, none of them make the slightest bit of effort, zing.)

This situation, of course is not an isolated case, but it did, however get me thinking. I was upstairs making myself an American breakfast, egg, bread and cheese, as I pondered immigration. American breakfast, is not something I do everyday. I usually eat toast, or just have coffee. The occasional Saturday, though, I like to put in some effort to make fried egg sandwiches, because as it's almost one in the afternoon, it's lunchtime anyway. (And if some French person comes and questions me, I can always call it a croque madame, and no one gets judged.)

Back to the subject at hand--stereotypes and cultural differences. Let's take a look at my grandfather. Paul was born in the United States in 1922 to Hungarian parents. Paul was raised speaking Hungarian with his mother, but he went to an American school, and as far as I know never learned the language, written. Paul never felt the need to teach the language to his four children, thus a mere two generations later, I speak not one word.

My maternal grandmother, Felixa. Born in 1918 to Czech parents, raised speaking Czech as a first language. However, she had the bad luck to go to school during a particularily xenophobic period of American history. With the surname Brtek, and pierced ears she was very conscious of her foreign status, and consequently named her children anglo names. Same result as Paul.

Then I was reading another book, called uhhhh SomethingalongthelinesofMr.Rosenblum'sGuidetoBeingEnglish. By, some British female author. It's about a German Jew who emmigrates to England right around the beginning of World War II, and it discusses his attempts to assimilate into English culture. Which, as he's a German Jew, and it's the English, is not easy. And despite the fact that he is never quite accepted, even after becoming wealthy, he continues to strive to become the perfect Englishman.

Now, present day. My bicultural children, go to a French school, but have subjects taught exclusively in English. They speak English at home, amongst themselves, despite the fact that we live in France. And, their father is French. They watch English TV, they want to go to English universities, and SA tells me on a regular basis how much better England is than France. (Okay, although I would love to tell you this is a direct result of being in British schools, they did live in Leeds for a while, but I'm partially convinced the schools are brainwashing them.)

And I think it's wonderful (not the brainwashing) that these children are holding on to their culture, or another culture at least. I hear that there's apparently a Portuguese section as well, and the Lycee Internationale has several different culture sections, but it does seem that anglophones are the most obsessed with hanging on to their culture and language. I suppose because English is so damn practical.

But can you imagine a Spanish speaking section, not as ESOL, but something that is really geared towards native speakers, as a part of public education in the States? Are you kidding? People get pissed off when you have the Spanish option on an ATM, let alone an entire language/culture class that the STATE would pay for. (Or maybe this exists? Perhaps this is one of those times I should have done research).

Meanwhile, if I marry a Frenchman, or even another American, and live in France, my children can enjoy (ahem, poor word choice, if you know anything about French schools) a French education, and also still learn the American way. (Naturally, I plan to brainwash them). And this coming from the French, who are more obsessed with their language and culture than any people I've ever met.

On the Statue of Liberty, there is a sign that says, "Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor." To which I hope to add, "We prefer them in this state, so we can completely humiliate them on a count of their background, and beat them into cultural assimilation."

1 comment:

  1. Tu est D'où?
    Mais, quoi? Tu parles pas comme unE américaine! T'as pas D'accent!
    M-Merci, c'est gentille.
    S-En fait tu parles vraiment MIEUX QUE les autres américains

    (good - bon - better -meilleur
    well - bien - better - mieux) You speak well, so 'better' is the comparative form of 'bien'.