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At work

About the difficulty of being French in a multicultural unit

Eiffel tower, baguette and béret

A look at the centre of the world... © youdontsmellbad on flickr

I have Danish, Bulgarian and Maltese colleagues in the office next to me. An Italian one in front of me. Some German, Spanish, Polish, Slovenian, Finnish colleagues in the same corridor. And they all speak perfect English. What about me? I’m French. And I sometimes feel stupid in that multicultural, multilingual and open-minded environment. Speaking two languages isn’t very spectacular when your colleagues speak as much as 3, 4, 5, even 10 languages!!!

Well, I could’nt say my colleagues don’t pay attention to me, no, that’s the contrary. All of them know about my place of birth, in Brittany. They all were there for some holidays. They all know about the town I’m now living in, in North of France. Most of all speak French fluent, and, and, and… It’s perhaps a victory for the “francophonie”, a victory for all people defending the French language in the world, the people who are fighting for the French “exception culturelle”, for the French tourism and the wonderful French landscapes… But that don’t motivate French people to have a look across borders. The characteristic French people are proud of their country; sometimes, it’s like they’re in the centre of the world.

I’m French. I was born in France, grew up in France. Nothing but usual. Learned then German – what a strange idea… Went then to Germany for the study, two years long. Really unusual in France. Now, when I’m back home, I feel like an alien, speaking fluent another language (will see now how long my German remains better than my English – could probably hold one or two years?), having travelled in several European countries and worked in China once…

But in other countries – tell me if I’m wrong -, that’s usual. I had this feeling in Germany for example. In Brussels, that’s more than usual. Your Lithuanian colleague knows the little town you’re born in but you don’t know the main city of his country (Please don’t say Riga…)? Well, looks like bad. On top of that, French people are apparently famous for being arrogant: so I have to integrate myself while breaking this image. I have to go to the people, I have to communicate in another language… That’s the point: speaking German is good but we work in English in our unit.

So my English is in the centre of two main challenges, a professional one (working with my colleagues, writing good articles, understanding what’s going on) and another one which I’d like to name “socialization” (integrate myself in a team, interact with colleagues, being happy while going to work…). How to reach that? I formally take you as witness of a commitment…

Six months. I give me six months in order to speak enough English for the ordinary activities at the European Parliament. Do you know how long it takes me to write this post? I let you guess… I promise to cut this time by 30 % by September 2009. It’s like the climate change – I have to invest now in order to save energy in the future. It’s the only way to sustainable working in the European Parliament!


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