Monday, June 02, 2008

We’re the only English in the village!

We live in a tiny village, in the middle of nowhere, and yet there are ten English families living near us. When we lived here seven years ago the only English I bumped into were retired couples who lived in their summer houses or eccentric hippies looking for a different lifestyle. I used to meet them at the recycling depot or wandering hopelessly around the supermarket looking for ginger biscuits.

Now we have an influx of young families. Many choose remote rural areas, with houses they can renovate. Families who move out here take a huge risk, the country life can be lonely and there is no English-language school available. It’s hard for the children, thrown into the strict French educational system. The parents are optimistic and keen to immerse the family in French cultural life. Before signing the papers to their houses they imagine chatting over the fence to their French neighbours and speaking perfect French in just a few months with their new friends over an aperitif.

In reality, their best friends tend to be English. The numbers of English residents has sky-rocketed in five years. There are estimated to be around 400,000 British families in France. In the English café in the local town I browse the monthly newsletters offering English plumbers, carpenters, gardeners…A whole community has materialized to meet their needs. The supermarket has an International section now (baked beans, HP sauce, Tetley’s tea-bags…) and the staff speak English these days.

In the local village school Marc and Nina attend (four classes, three teachers and sixty-six pupils) there are seven English kids. That’s nearly 10%. The seven kids naturally talk English together, even though they are all bilingual. Except in class where English in banned. So far, the linguistic balance is working and the seven English-speaking kids make efforts to play with the French children and integrate through after-school activities. Marc and Nina have friends from both cultures and translate when needed. But in the secondary school I hear that 20% of the kids are English. They have become a separate group and rarely socialize with French kids.

What do the locals think about it? French mothers are happy for their kids to play with the English kids after school (free language lessons!) But furious at the prices the English pay for a country house. There is a distinct feeling that the numbers are getting too high and anti-English comments can be heard all around. The teachers hate teaching English as a Second Language (part of the curriculum) to the English kids, who laugh at their pronunciation.

On the English side some of the parents were rather annoyed to have yet another ‘English’ family join the class when we arrived. One mother, who has been living in our village for four years, was furious to have lost her status as the Only Brit in the Village. There’s the unspoken fear that the English kids will not bother learning French or make any French friends if there are too many of them. This is the case in many countries where, once numbers get too large, an internal community is formed.

1 comment:

bluesky said...

A great site for ESL students is AIDtoCHILDREN.com.

AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English
vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most
impoverished places around the world.

Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com