Trip Start Jan 01, 2014
11Trip End Ongoing
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As someone who studied International Relations and has traveled abroad previously, I should have known right away that this was not the case at all. They may sometimes come off as a bit rude or stand-offish, but it's just part of the culture. You aren't in the Deep South or Texas anymore where everyone greets you with a smile. In fact, the French have a small obsession with American culture and try to sneak it into their own in various capacities. A friend of mine said there was a ridiculous line at the Abercrombie & Fitch on the Champs Elysees on Sunday afternoon. I've witnessed people stand in line for over an hour just for Burger King. Granted, these are a bit special because there's only one A&F/BK in France, so they garner a bit more attention. But there's also more Starbucks and McDonald's then I think I've seen in all of the US, and most importantly, everyone wants to speak English.
I know that English is not strictly an American language, and I'm also well aware that many languages are spoken within the United States. But it is undeniable that America's global position over the last few decades has demanded that more and more people speak English. In my freshman anthropology course at UT, we learned about the issues of cultural appropriation and how adopting new languages can alter a society. We would watch videos in my Arabic classes about the new "Arab-lish" slang that was being fought against in the Middle East as more and more young people swore off their native tongue to become more 'modern' and speak English.
Surely, I thought, the French would be a bit more hesitant about being so enamored with the language because they are a proud people and love their own language. While that's true, it does not mean that they are not obsessed with English along with the rest of the world. Children start learning as soon as possible, stores have English names, radio stations play songs in English, and people are always wanting to practice their English with you. I was honestly quite shocked with the ferocity the French have to learn English.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that everyone speaks it and is fluent, but most people know at least the basics. And it always makes me feel so ashamed when someone tells me they only speak a little bit of English, and here we are having a full blown conversation. Whereas, I say I only speak a little bit of French, and I literally mean I can tell you that I'm an au pair and 22 years old. C'est tout.
Sometimes I wish that the world powers had come together and just created a global language that we all would have to learn. Americans have it too easy now. We don't learn languages because we don't have to. Yes, the world is becoming more global. And yes, it's better if you learn more languages, but with this trajectory, it seems like most people will be able to communicate with one another in English fairly soon. Even I, someone who loves learning languages, find myself having to push past this mental block. I feel like I can almost always rely on the fact that between what I know in a foreign language and in English that I will be able to convey what I want to. But that is not always the case.
I have to close by saying that I am always grateful and astounded by everyone who has taken the time to learn English. I know you didn't learn it for me, but it has made my travels all over the world that much easier. I can only imagine how different it would be to travel or live abroad not knowing a language that anyone else around me did. I would not have met many of the wonderful people that I have, and I probably wouldn't be so gung-ho about continuing my travels abroad. Don't think this post means that I am angry at you in anyway! I actually respect you in the highest regard. Continue to be amazing!
And for those of you, like me, who aren't fluent in any other languages other than English, just jump off the deep in and dive into one. It's quite a ride!