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Solidarity blog: The neutral field

I returned to France at Christmas, to celebrate the holidays with my family, but also to see my friends. We celebrate Christmas with gifts on the evening of the 24th in my family and on the 25th at noon we eat as if we had not eaten for 1 week. The meal was very good, everyone clears and leaves the table, except my sister and my father. I am no longer at the table, but I am in an armchair not too far away, listening distractedly to the conversation.

My father looked back on the period of his life when he lived in Thailand, how difficult it was to learn Thai. But still, he liked it a lot. He used to listen to the radio in Thai every day. And that, my sister did not understand. For her, only English is important. Russian, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic also at a pinch, as these languages are among the most widely spoken in the world. But she doesn’t understand why she would have to “break her ass” (French slang expression to say “to struggle”) learning a language if English is the third most spoken language in the world (after
Mandarin Chinese and Spanish).

I asked: “What about all those who don’t speak English?” For example, in Croatia almost all people over 50 do not speak English. They speak Croatian, Russian or German at a pinch, but not a word of English. ” To which she answers me that I do not have to talk to these people, that in my daily life I can very well evolve only in English. And it’s true that I can only get by in English, but frankly, it’s crap. And I find it extremely unfortunate to limit social interactions to English speakers. Especially when you live in a foreign country! All your surroundings encourage you, whether it is the people or the scriptures everywhere in the city. It would be a waste not to take advantage of it. And above all, when a foreigner is trying to learn your language, it’s usually really nice. It’s also a great topic for discussion, combining culture sharing and learning.

I was hiking in Sljeme last Tuesday and met a Croatian at the start of the trail. So we went all the way together, and half of my questions during our discussion were about Croatian language. I always want to learn and I think he also enjoyed explaining things to me. I think generally when you’re in the position of teaching someone something, you feel good. Our energy is focused on getting the person to understand and the rest is no longer important. I find learning the language of a country when you live there is important for another reason: English is neither my
culture nor that of this country. It’s a kind of neutral ground that ultimately does not reflect anyone’s identity. As I already said in the 1st article, when I speak English, I am not really me. So even if it means not being me, you might as well try to see who my interlocutor is really. To speak someone’s language is to have access to that whole person. It’s to have access to the expressions, the history, the mentality, the way to behave. The language gives you access to that, and I think it’s wonderful.

My sister doesn’t care about all this kind of stuff because she does not really like languages in general (she is terrible in English, most of French people are), and she really don’t see the point of it. But for me it allows you to change your perspective and I think this is very important.

Here are some expressions and comparisons I could do between French and Croatian with my hiking buddy:
Glup kao panj : idiot as a stump
Dormir comme une souche : sleep as a stump
Glup kao konj : idiot as a horse
Bête comme ses pieds: idiot as your feet
Le štrukli, c’est étouffe-chrétien = štrukli je « étouffe- chrétien ». It literally means « choke a christian », and you use it when you want to say that a meal is indigestible, queasy, but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s one of those untranslatable words.

Maybe next time I’ll give you more expressions like this x)
Cheers girls and guys