It will teach me

For the third time in less than a year, I heard someone speak French at our favourite playground. Naturally – I think – I tried to engage the conversation when the children were playing next to each other.



  1. I wasn’t groomed. Clean, properly dressed, but not groomed – I haven’t really been since our little monkey was born. But he was nicely dressed, nice pull-over (a present), clean jeans and nice shoes.
  2. Why should I feel the urge to talk to a French-speaking person, just because she speaks French? I don’t have that same urge with English-speaking people. Except that I’m French; I’m hoping that it excuses my behaviour. There is always the hope that they will be open to discussion, nice people, and that we could maybe meet again at the playground to exchange another few words in French. Maybe I come by as needy, if so I’m sorry for that, don’t mean to, won’t happen again.

The first person I met, a woman, I actually went straight to when we were about to leave the playground. I felt that it would have been too bad not to try. She was ok, though not very interested in the country and, even after living here for years, she didn’t understand a word – spoken or written – of Dutch. And no interest in learning it. Hum. I cannot judge people for not speaking the language, but not understanding a word of it after years? Anyway, she was pregnant with her third and probably tired.

The second person was a man. We only exchanged a few words when the children were next to each other and they kind of “played” together. His 2 years old daughter went down crawling to copy my son who was still crawling at the time. I laughed, said I’d hoped it would be the other way around (that he would start walking instead). The man didn’t smile and only pulled his daughter up, frowning. Man is not happy – I walk away with my son. A few minutes later I heard him half-yelling at her for taking so long to leave the playground and walk back home. Hum. Ok, we all have bad days.

The third person, this morning, was a grandmother coming from France to help her daughter out after she’d had a second child. Again the children played next to each other at some point – little monkey was fascinated with the other child’s truck 🙂 – so I tried to talk a little, name, age, and we exchanged a couple of words. It was nice. The children each go their own way and we run after them. Another exchange of words, quite nice. And another one later on, closing down, judgemental… Too bad, too classical…

The propensity of French people to close down is incredible. Run away if anyone would find you interesting enough to want a few words with you. No smile, only cautiousness. Keep your ground. This woman is too friendly, go away.

And maybe I am too friendly… But not excited or pushy though, I promise! Only glad and interested to be speaking in French with a native for once…

Granted, the grandmother cannot know what it is to live in a foreign country, never speaking your own language to anyone except your husband or your family on the phone. To never hear it on TV or talked by anyone in the street. She cannot know.

But this tendency of French people to close down to discussion, to be not very polite, not very friendly, is something we complain a lot about with my husband. It is a known fact. That I keep forgetting… to be reminded soon enough. A fact that we keep acknowledging by comparing their behaviour with the Dutch or the British (when we go there), where a smile or a word at the bus stop or at the playground is not rare – but not with the French over 20 or 25 years old. Why? We can’t be sure, we have theories, but that would be for another post…

Anyway, it’s really too bad. But maybe it will (finally) teach me to keep my distance.

And maybe (I must add, to be fair) the grandmother was just a bit grumpy today (social anxiety when you hold us ;-)) and she might be a bit more smiley if I meet her another time – now that she already knows me a little – or not. Who knows?

The learning process, source: rubyblossom, flickr
The learning process, source: rubyblossom, flickr

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