Several decades ago I made the conscious decision not to learn French. Growing up, I was always far too busy juggling English, Spanish and Tagalog in order to survive as a Third Culture Kid. Living outside of the Philippines during the formative years meant that Tagalog was never a priority language for me, and hence suffered its linguistic development in my world. Later on, as I grew up and distanced myself even more from Tagalog, German, Hindi and to some extent Thai, took priority, depending on the current country of residence. Then I faced the opportunity to learn another European language, and I chose Italian instead of French, sensing that I would need it more. True enough, when my daughter moved to Florence for university, I was in fighting spirit.
I never imagined that this decision would bite me in the gluteus maximus! In the past 30 days I have sat through jobs interviews that required being a linguist for at least three European languages. You would think that English, German and Spanish would be enough to get me through, but each and every time French was my stumbling block and a first class ticket to getting the door slammed in my face. What really got my goat was the last interview where I was upfront about my lack of French and the interviewers smiled jovially and said “No problem, you compensate for it by being fluent in Spanish.”
If anything, this experience has angered me so much that I would rather learn Dutch or Danish at this point instead of French. Don’t get me wrong, I can read French to a certain extent and get the gist of it, and if I had to force my way through the market in Paris I would probably get by, but it is the sheer arrogance of the prioritisation that annoys me. I call it linguistic racism, and no, I don’t consider it the diplomatic language of the world. That ship sailed a long time ago and I’m at the point I regret not polishing up my Swahili or taking my Thai and Hindi to another level.
Not speaking French, or to be specific, not being fluent in it, also limits options for job hunting in several countries, which is a pity, but then again, who wants to work in Quebec, Haiti or the DRC? I wouldn’t mind Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg, or that matter Morocco, but once again, French is my kryptonite for all these countries regardless of whether I look into the development or corporate worlds. Merde!
I remember back in the 1990s when I was told that Chinese and Japanese would be a ticket to the perfect job and the languages of the future, and seriously considered taking one of them up, only to be derailed by German and Hindi… Destiny is a bitch. Many told me that I would be better off with French or Portuguese in the long-run, but my disdain for French and lack of association with any Portuguese-speaking country were major deterrents. Besides, I’m now at an age where I don’t really fancy learning another language anymore. By the time I master it I would probably be facing retirement already, so what’s the point? Call me bullheaded, but I will forge ahead and fight my way through without sans Français, if anything, just to prove a point.