The importance of integration

The French always seem to bear the brunt of British intolerance. It is almost guaranteed that if you raise the subject of France or anything French, somebody will utter something like, "Well, they're bloody French, aren't they?"

Whether this is just a little light banter or more of a general feeling of malevolence due to historical and current Anglo-French disagreements, one will never really know due to the complexities of British humour, but can you really blame the French for being somewhat aloof or even downright rude if the British show them so little respect? It always strikes me when somebody tells me they went to France and the weather was superb, the food better... but the people, oh the people! Alas, why are they so miserable?!

You see, the trouble with the Brits is that we just do not try hard enough when we travel overseas.

We have this disgracefully embarrassing feature that we don't embrace foreign languages at an early enough age and as a result we are not able to immerse ourselves into a foreign culture. My son is 9 years old and if he wants to learn French, it has to be an extra-curricular activity in his lunchtime. Football or more lessons? It's a tough call for a kid.

I started learning foreign languages at secondary school, aged 11. I am rusty but can converse basically in French, get by in Italian, and manage a little Spanish as long as I have a trusty phrase book by my side. Unlike some of my compatriots, I don't share ill-feeling towards the French. When I go to France, I speak French and the experience is rewarding. You get out what you put in.

I can recall only one occasion when a French person was off with me.

I had popped into a little shop to swap a note for change for the Metro, and despite my polite request in French, was met with a resolute, "Non!" I put this down to the lady being asked this all the time rather than any genuine hostility towards an English buffoon.

Imagine if somebody approached you in the street and started speaking Chinese to you. Or German. Or Russian. Chances are, you're not going to give that person much of your time. Now imagine you're abroad and you talk to people in English. Yes, it may be the official international language, but it smacks of arrogance, laziness and indifference.

If you are working overseas, you will reap the benefits of learning the local language.

It doesn't matter whether you end up being fluent, intermediate, or just get by with a smattering of useful phrases; ultimately, you will gain mutual respect and start to build relationships which may be important at a business or a personal level. Pay for lessons (some employers may do this as part of their international relocation policy), or use a free smart-phone app, it doesn't matter - just do it and start integrating into local society.

I leave you with a little gem from a man called Brian, who just so happens to be my dad. Not a natural linguist, but he always made an effort with the locals. Holidaying (in France), there was an occasion he was approached by a man who said something to him in French. Brian didn't quite understand and said, in his best French, "Je non comprenday."

"No, I non comprenday, either," came the response.

How we all laughed. Now isn't that a good stepping stone for building a relationship?

Stuart Beaty

Celsium, Birmingham, UK