Je ne parle pas français.

Last Saturday night found me curled up in bed with the most recent issue of The Economist (wild, I know). The article I was reading broadly discussed how globalization makes it more difficult to feel foreign whilst abroad. It particularly piqued my interest at the mention of Brussels, a city to which I feel personal attachment. The author argues that Brussels is an especial example of a city so rid with internationals that one is exempt from experiencing a foreign identity.

Almost a year ago I arrived in Belgium as an exchange student for the semester. The part of landing in Brussels that was most exhilarating was feeling handicapped by language: I didn’t speak any French. I knew how to say ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and little else. My difficulty communicating even the most basic of ideas made me feel completely foreign. Yes, Brussels is among the most international cities in the world and yes, Belgium itself has three constitutional languages. But not understanding French made me quite aloof from its culture. I couldn’t exchange basic niceties in a store, read a menu, or understand the advertisements plastered along the metro walls. Once, toward the end of my stay in Brussels, I was taking a stroll near Grand Place when I encountered a large protest along Boulevard Anspach. Although there were shouting, signs, crowds, and blow horns, I still didn’t know exactly what this protest was about; I was isolated from the language.

My point is not that those who seek the identity of an outsider should simply accept ignorance of language. But rather, so long as different languages and language barriers exist, there will always be opportunities to feel the thrill of foreignness.



~ by Lindsay Bembenek on December 30, 2009.

2 Responses to “Je ne parle pas français.”

  1. LOL I completely agree … not the same thing but when I was on a cruise ship I experienced languages and cultures and it was amazing … still wish I knew a little more Italian, French, and even Canadian 😉

  2. Je suis bien d’accord! I am from Québec, but moving to the states (w/o speaking a word of english) definitely made me feel the “thrill of foreignness”… even though we are neighbors!

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