Thursday, 26 May 2016

Maths problem

My son's homework... makes me want to cry!

After 13 years of living my life in another language, I consider myself bilingual. But there is something I really cannot do in English, and it's maths.

I don't remember ever being good at it. Maybe in primary school, but still, I have memories of struggling with silly things like divisions or types of angles. Now, imagine having to do it all over again, but in a different language.

This is what's happening right now when I'm desperately trying to help my 8 years old with his maths homework. I don't know maths vocabulary in English, I don't know how the teacher has explained and worse, I actually cannot count or do arithmetic in English.

Before I had to face that problem, I never really asked myself why I was always counting or doing mental arithmetic in French. And if I'm at the ATM I always think about my Pin number in French. I know my Irish phone number in English, but if I had to give a French number to someone, I would have to think harder before saying it. Strange isn't it?

I was so puzzled I decided to research the issue and see if I was the only one who couldn't do maths or use numbers in their second language. And I finally came across this article.

In short, it explains that the majority of bilinguals count in their native language because they favour the language of instruction. Basically, the process of learning arithmetic tables is so hard that it stays in your brain and it's easier and more efficient to reactivate the cells involved when we use numbers  than learning it all over again in a different language.

But the study also shows that when it comes to numbers we have to remember, the language we think in can vary according to circumstances.

All of this makes perfect sense to me. That's why I remember my different passwords involving numbers in French, why I know my own phone number in English and especially why I find it so hard to explain additions in English to my son.

There's only one solution I think. Learning arithmetic with my child in English all over again. And I thought I was being done with maths since the end of secondary school! The nightmare is only starting I guess...

What about you? Do you find it hard counting in your second language? Or are there other things you can only do in your mother tongue?

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why are the French rude and judgemental?

At least the weather was nice... I can't say the same for some people we met...

Let's not make a sweeping statement here, not ALL French people are rude and arrogant, but interestingly, that's how we are perceived by a good majority of foreigners.

I'm just back from a week in South of France, where we stayed with a couple of Irish and American friends. I was looking forward to that trip so much, and in terms of weather, landscape, food and wine, it certainly didn't disappoint.

But when it came to interactions with other French people, I was a bit baffled. Maybe it's because I knew I wanted to write about the subject so I paid more attention to the bad stuff than the good. Or maybe there actually is more negativity in France and I noticed it because even though I am French, I was a tourist over there.

So let's see what happened, and you might understand what I'm trying to explain. On the second day, we took a trip up the mountains. As soon as we arrived I took the kids to the toilets, and of course the queue for the women's was big. There was no one in the men's. I queued for a little bit but then I saw a woman coming out of the men's bathroom with a boy, and I thought "Well, that's a good idea. I'll take my son there and my friend's daughter will stay in the queue for the ladies. We should be out at the same time." As soon as I made my way to the gents, the woman who just came out of there looked at me and the conversation went a bit like that:

Woman: You can't go there, it's for men
Me: Well, he's a boy. And you just came out of there
Woman: Yes, but we were just trying to make the ladies queue smaller. You can't go there.
Me: So what? He wants to go the toilets, he's a boy. I don't see the problem

I went in anyway, but I heard a big sigh and whispers. My problem with this is, why did she care so much about me going into the men's toilets? It didn't affect her personally, so why criticizing when she did exactly same thing? I still don't get it.

Our trip to the supermarket was a bit of an experience as well. When my son had a minor tantrum because he wanted a toy, there were customers looking at us, and trust me, their face told a thousand words. I tried not to pay attention, but I couldn't help but I really felt judged. I won't even get into the impatience of customers behind us when I was translating the different types of ham to my Irish friend!

The funniest (or saddest, but we decided to laugh about it) was when my American friend went to the supermarket to buy bread. As he took the last 3 baguettes on the shelf, a woman kicked him in the shin. One of the baguettes fell, she grabbed it and left. Only in France you'd see someone fight for a baguette!!

When I came back to Ireland, I discussed the "incidents" with a few French friends, and they felt the same way. One of them told me she was stopped in a supermarket by a stranger who was looking inside her trolley, and told her "You must be well-off considering how full it is". Seriously? Since when people comment on other people's shopping?

This whole judgemental attitude reminds me of the day me and my husband went to buy alcohol for my birthday party. As we were choosing some bottles, an old couple told Fabrice that he shouldn't drink alcohol because it was the Ramadan. First of all, he's not Muslim, but even if he was, and he wanted to buy alcohol, so what? Why should they comment on it?

As a tourist in an unknown place, I really felt some negativity. But thankfully, it wasn't from everybody. We also met nice people in the village and overall , we had a wonderful stay (the wine helped a lot!). Still, I felt a bit bad for my friends. I speak French so I could defend myself, but what happens when you don't speak the language? They tried to speak a bit a French and made efforts, but somehow I'm not surprised foreign tourists think the French are rude.

I've never felt that in Ireland. Nobody has ever commented on my shopping trolley. Customers have helped or sympathised when my kids were misbehaving. On the whole, Irish people don't really care about other's actions when it doesn't affect them personally.

I want to think all of these examples could have happened in other countries. After all, there are ***holes everywhere. But yet, a part of me thinks it really is a French "thing" and it bugs me. Maybe the Irish in me is starting to take over...

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think I'm over reacting about French people being rude and judgemental?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

10 things I've been told when I say I'm French

Inspired by Aerogaby's post on weird questions she's asked when she says she's Venezuelian, here's my take on weird stuff I've been asked or told when I tell people I'm French...

Do you eat frogs legs, snails, horse meat?

Yes, I have eaten frogs legs Ireland. Never in France and I've never been to a French restaurant that serves them. If you want to know, it tastes like chicken wings, but it's smaller. No fuss at all here...
As for the snails, I ate some a long time ago and I didn't like it so I never tried again.
Horse meat? Unless I ate dodgy industrial lasagna a few years back, no. I actually don't know anyone who has. Maybe not a popular dish in Brittany?

Frogs legs in an Irish pub

French people... They are always on strike!

Wrong. Sometimes they're on holidays! On a more serious note, French people do like a good protest. At the moment they are protesting about the new employment law (and trust me, it's not pretty). French people see it that way: We protest and then we talk. In Ireland it's the opposite. Irish people protesting or being on strike is usually the last resort.

I love France! I've been to Paris once

Yeah... Paris is not representative of France. And I bet you loved Paris as a city but you hated the arrogance of Parisians. Being from the countryside, I will have to agree with you.

Can you help me choose a bottle of wine?

I might be French but I know feck all about wine so just take the middle of the range one. You'll be grand.

What do you think about the French president?

That applies to all the presidents that have been in power since I'm in Ireland: Chirac, Sarkozy and now Hollande. The thing is, I'm not deeply interested in politics so I haven't much to say about them. What you probably want to know even more is what I think about Hollande's affair with a French actress. My only thought about that is, how was she attracted to him in the first place?!

I can speak French: Sacrebleu, voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

We haven't used the word "Sacrebleu" in France for the past 50 years at least so I don't know where this is coming from! As for the rest, the answer is no, thank you!

You don't have much of an accent, for a French person...

Years of practice, trust me!

Why are French people so arrogant?

Because they think they have the best language, culture, education, social model, architecture, food, drink to name a few...

Do you all wear berets and striped shirts?

Yes, and we go around with a baguette in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other...

And last but not least: What do you think about Thierry Henry's hand ball against Ireland?

Even after so many years, this one always come back. I used to have a manager who would use the event as a way to close off an argument. If we disagreed on an issue and he ran out of ideas he would end the discussion by saying: "I only have one thing to say: Thierry Henry". And I knew it was the end of it!

What about you? What's the weirdest questions you've been asked while abroad?