I know it's been a while since my last post, and perhaps a rant isn't the best way to kick off the new year on my blog, but, well, I'm going to do it nonetheless.
I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, but when I speak French I have a very strong and decidedly pronounced American accent. I suppose this shouldn't come as much of a surprise as I am American, French isn't my native language and I didn't even start learning French until I was way beyond the formative phonological years. Nevertheless I am just not one of those lucky people who can pick up an accent with ease; hell I can't even do an imitation of a British accent!
Now, generally speaking, my accent hasn't been something that has bothered me that much in all of my years in France. In fact, most of the time I give it little to no thought. People pretty much always understand me so I have no problems communicating, it hasn't been a problem for my work or any of our clients, and, well, I see it as only normal - French is not my mother tongue after all. It's pretty much been a non-issue for me.
In all of my time in France my only real regret accent-wise has been the fact that no one will EVER mistake me as French, not even for a minute. The moment I open my mouth it is clear to all that I am a foreigner. Some people have trouble determining if I am British, Canadian or American, but no one ever thinks that I am French. But like I said, it's not a big deal and it's not particularly surprising. Sure when I was younger I took some pronunciation and phonetics courses in the hopes of improving my accent, but it never really made a difference. Neither have all the years I've spent in France So I have come to terms with the fact that I have an American accent and I've been okay with that. It's not like my accent is suddenly going to disappear and I'm definitely better off accepting it as a part of me than constantly fighting reality.
However, recently (ever since our move to Bordeaux really), I am developing an accent complex. While living in Tours and Paris, I rarely received comments about my accent, and like I said it was for the most part a non-issue. Sure from time to time I would have the foolish arrogant French person who would hear my accent and automatically think that I couldn't speak French. Those are the people who would respond to my every comment or question in horribly broken English, despite the fact that I was speaking to them in perfectly good French. I never really figured out if those people thought they were being helpful, just wanted to practice their English, or were just that dense, but I shrugged it off, continued speaking to them in French, and then went on with my day. I would also have the occasional unpleasant encounter, often on public transportation, especially the night bus in Paris, where someone would decide to mock me and make fun of my accent. But in those cases they were often drunk and I would always just ignore it and continue whatever I was doing. But here in Bordeaux my experiences are vastly different from what I've been used to and I find that I am having a harder and harder time just being okay with my accent, let alone proud of it. It has gotten to the point where I am starting to lose confidence and would rather avoid speaking when possible.
Why, you might ask? Well, it seems that the Bordelais enjoy ensuring that I am aware of my French-language inferiority. Pretty much every new person that I meet just jumps at the opportunity to mock me, make fun of me and comment on my accent. And it's really starting to wear me down. Granted, I should be somewhat used to it; Lionel and I have a few friends in Paris who would, from time to time, make fun of my accent or ask me when I was going to make an effort to lose my accent. But, since they are close friends who we've known for years, I've always just shrugged it off and taken it as a joke, especially since the most guilty of our friends is PACsed with a Japanese girl who also has a very strong accent. And sure, some of my family-in-law likes to laugh about how I pronounce certain words, but again, they are family so I would just try to take it as a joke and not let it get to me.
Here in Bordeaux, however, I'm not talking about close friends, people we've known for years or even family. I'm talking about people I have just met feeling that somehow it is appropriate and acceptable to poke fun at my accent within the first five minutes of us being introduced. And if it had only happened on one occasion I would just chalk that person up to being rude and socially unacceptable. But no, this has happened countless times in the 8 months since we've moved here, and with the majority of the new people I've met. I just don't understand. Has my accent gotten worse? Am I being overly sensitive? Is this just a Bordeaux thing (I mean, perhaps all of those rumors about Bordeaux being a posh, aristocratic and full-of-itself city are true)? Or were these people just raised in barns with no concept of what is appropriate in a social situation, especially when meeting a new person? Can they all really just be that rude and offensive? It is just shocking to me! And please take note that NO, after mocking my accent and attempting to imitate it, telling me that you think American accents are charming is not going to make me feel better or make me think that you are any less arrogant and rude. Generally I'm just going to add you to the growing list of people I don't like and walk away. But if you are really lucky and I'm feeling particularly feisty I might make a comparison with the French native speaker's ability to speak flawless and accent-free English.
In the end I guess I just fail to see the point. Do they think that I am not aware of the fact that I have an accent? Because trust me, I know. I know very well that my mouth just refuses to form the French "u," that I cannot get the "r" right to save my life and that nasals will just never be my forte (unless I'm sick...that generally helps). But is it really not enough that (and not to toot my own horn or anything) I almost never make a grammatical error, that I have an extensive vocabulary and that I never have comprehension issues? Do they feel the need to remind me of my failings? Or does it just make them feel better about themselves? Or perhaps they feel inadequate with their less-than-stellar language skills and they take pride in their ability to point out similar imperfections in others? Whatever it is, in the end it just flat out rude, inappropriate and quite frankly, insulting. I can not, for the life of me, imagine behaving similarly with a foreigner in the US. I would never mock or make fun of someone speaking English with an accent, be they friend, family or new acquaintance, and I just can't understand what makes so many people in France think that it is acceptable to behave in such an ignorant and uncouth manner. I understand that they are "proud" of their language, but come on, give me a break. Can't they just keep their inconsiderate comments to themselves?
And now that I come to think of it, when I was studying in Italy I don't remember meeting a single Italian person who behaved like this and I definitely have an accent when I speak Italian as well. Does anyone else have experience with this kind of behavior? Has anyone ever made fun of your accent? Is it just a Bordeaux thing or just a France thing?