Monday, April 06, 2009

Which language would you like, sir?

OPOL families can be annoying sometimes. One never knows which language to speak to them. Or which parent is the bilingual one? Or whether they all speak both languages? Or which language they prefer? An airhostess friend told me she makes a quick linguistic judgment based on the book or newspaper the person is carrying when he or she boards the plane. Is this true? To test the theory on a recent Jacques boards first (with a Le Monde newspaper in his hand) and the airhostess greets us all politely in French. We all reply in French (it would be impolite not too). Later on, she hands out the gifts for the children and hears the kids speaking English together and apologises for speaking French. The kids say their mantra, which explains everything ‘It’s OK, we can speak both languages, Mummy speaks English, Papa speaks French…’ She is a little annoyed that she misread us initially, and asks the kids which language they prefer. That’s a difficult question. Should they risk upsetting Mummy or risk making Papa feel like they don’t like his language? Both, they all reply, diplomatically. When she comes back with the snack she sticks with the French for all of us.

On the way back I board first, with the Times displayed obviously, and the reverse applies…the airhostess greets us all in English and we all politely reply in English. This time when she comes round with a the free gifts the kids amuse themselves, Marc speaks English to her, Nina French and then Gabriel English, so the poor airhostess is not sure if they are from the same family or playing tricks. When she asks them exactly which they speak they chorus their mantra: Mummy speaks English, Papa speaks French.