About five minutes into an under-8s rugby match I was refereeing last weekend one of the fresh-faced little “rugbymen” briefly interrupted proceedings with “I have a question.”
I obliged him with a moment’s attention – did the penalty need explaining perhaps?
“Are you Breton?” he quizzed.
I’m sure Nigel Owens doesn’t have to deal with these kind of left-field challenges, but seeing as we were pressed for time I simply smiled, said “No” and reminded him he should be standing 5 metres from the ball. That’s what Nigel would do – I thought to myself.
To be fair he won’t be the last Francophone to comment on my strange pronunciation, but I was happy he’d picked me out as vaguely French rather than obviously foreign. That English accent is rather difficult to get rid of after all.
Now entering my tenth year in France, I’m happy to report that I can express myself in almost any situation – with perhaps one exception. That is when faced with someone who presumes, because I speak with an accent, that I must be stupid, retarded or just lacking intellect in general.
I find this sort of individual particularly difficult to deal with because I am usually struck dumb by their brazen prejudice – thereby exacerbating the problem. Meeting a rude comment with silence only reinforces the impression that you are far below their level of intelligence.
But the scenario need not be oral to experience this level of assholery.
I recently received an email containing a sentence along the lines of “Because French is not your first language, I don’t think you fully understood what I was wrote in my last mail.” (No, I did – you were being an asshole and you thought I’d take it lying down!)
Accent or not – just the knowledge that you are foreign seems to grant certain individuals the right to treat you like a five year old. If my skin wasn’t so meringue-white you could even call it racism.
But what can you do?
Confrontation is perhaps the only way you earn respect with these kinds of people. My feeling is – once you’ve recovered from that initial shock – come straight back at them with a tirade of abuse – in English. Chances are they won’t understand a thing … and then who’s going to feel stupid?