Save. Spend. Splurge.

Getting tired of being lingually singled out

Do you know how many times people comment on how well I speak French ….. for a foreigner?

I never thought I’d get it, but yeah, I am not born in Québec and not a Francophone, so I picked it up as a language, but it is like telling a woman she is beautiful for her ageor other backhanded compliments.

Also, I am not a foreigner. Technically, I am a landed immigrant yes, but I grew up here. My whole childhood is Canadian, which is a very strange upbringing for me.

See, I am not seen as Canadian.

But I am also not seen as a native of the country I left.

Why? Because I don’t speak any of my native languages (I lost it all when I moved to Canada, my parents never bothered to follow up on any of it).

So not only do I get shamed by other natives of my country, for not being native enough, I am also not Canadian enough by default of being “Other”.

I have had many comments at work that I am “acting too white”, or “white-washed”. WTF DOES THAT EVEN MEAN.

I grew up in Canada, and if it is pre-dominantly white, I am picking up on the culture of Canada, which by default makes me .. CANADIAN.

I am not trying to “act white”, I am acting the way I was raised.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Here, before I even open my mouth, I am asked about 50% of the time if I speak French. I answer in the affirmative each time with an inward sigh.

I acknowledge that they are trying to be inclusive and kind, to make sure that they don’t just assume I speak French, but I notice this never happens to my partner, who is white. And male.

It only happens to me.

Then what bothers me is the whole labeling of being ‘foreign’. Just because I am not Caucasian, it doesn’t mean I am Other, but here, it is pretty clear that I am.

I mean, I know plenty of people who are not “Other” and don’t speak a word of French. Or they prefer English too, but I somehow get dinged for it subtly, for NOT speaking French even though I can, because I get the attitude of — WELL. If you CAN speak French, why the #%(* are you NOT speaking it all the time?


Sometimes, I prefer to speak English because my brain is tired and I cannot form the words in French, the same way that some Francophones get tired of speaking English for extended periods of time.

When I do see that someone’s English is not as strong as my French, I switch. I’m not a monster.

I just want a break sometimes, and there are times where I cannot express myself properly because I am missing the vocabulary required.

Then on top of all that, my French is not right.

It isn’t the accent that is spoken here, because I learned it from my partner who has a different French-from-France accent.

I also get comments on that too. More along the jokey lines of: Oh so you think you’re better than me because you pronounce that word differently…

No, I really don’t. I just speak the language the way I was taught.

I don’t know if anyone thinks about it, frankly. How tiring it is to be the constant Foreign Other in your own country.

It is why, when I go back to Ontario, particularly Toronto, it is like my brain breathes.

It relaxes. I am in a melting pot of more diversity than I have been living in for a while, I am with people who are ‘foreign’ like me, and therefore, not foreign at all because I am just like them.

It is a sigh of relief.

I am not sure my partner understands. Maybe he does, he feels like Other here sometimes as well, because he isn’t from here, but from France.

Still, he is closer to them than I am.

And through all of this, I think — where do I fit in? What culture am I part of? I am a mix of two worlds, basically, and on top of that, two languages.

I am seen as slightly different for living in Québec because now I am not a hardcore Anglophone.

My parents are thrilled beyond belief that I managed to learn French (they’re impressed), so it isn’t malicious, but I do get looked at differently in the sense that I “went over to the other side”, as Canada is sort of divided into French-speaking and English-speaking.

I know right, AGAIN. How many lines can I cross and still figure out who I am?

I guess it is why I don’t care so much about what people think. You can ask a hundred people, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

I can only just be me, and who I am. I just wish there was a little less of what I am experiencing, but… baby steps.

Soon it’ll not even be an issue, I hope. I really hope it in’t an issue for Little Bun as he grows up, as he is ‘half’ … and could experience I think, another level of confusion.


  • Flo

    I am a long-time reader and I really appreciate your voice. You are one of the couple of blog that I follow, even if I don’t reply most of the time.
    From the last post (your mother’s cooking) I understand you are Chinese. French is not an easy language and you should be proud. I have a similar path and I can relate so much.

  • Anon

    As soon as I open my mouth, it’s obvious that I’m from another country. I blend in well here in the United States and I have lived here for years but I haven’t lost my accent one little bit and every time I open my mouth, my accent is commented upon. I used to think it was cute but now I don’t. I speak less and less and mingle less and less which is stupid on my part but I’m just so damn tired of explaining and/or justifying that I’m not a fucking tourist and I have lived here for years/pay taxes/have children here/etc etc etc ad nauseum. I know that people don’t realize what they’re doing to my self esteem but it’s hard enough when one has a foot in two different worlds but doesn’t completely belong to either. These fucking comments about my accent just reinforce feelings of not belonging. Rant!

  • Sense

    Oh! same! i go back to the US and everything feels so easy. It’s like I’m struggling every day in NZ but don’t even realize it until I go back home. It’s been 11 years now.

    My parents laugh whenever I can’t remember the American-English word for something or when I say a traditionally Kiwi phrase and they don’t understand me. NZers ask if I’m Canadian (to be polite, no one wants to be accused of being American these days!) and comment that I haven’t lost my accent in an accusatory way, like I can control that.

    I don’t really fit anywhere anymore, really, but I realize I’m quite privileged. Until I open my mouth, I could be from either country.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      You feel caught in between two worlds, like me. When I go back home (RARELY), I am not from there but I am.. and I am not from Canada but I am..

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Oh and to make it worse I am in a French part of Canada, so when I visit English Canada, I fit right in until I cannot remember the English word for something and say it in French — and I don’t even really do 100% French!

      Some words just come easier than others in French.

      Or I’ll call the subway station in English Canada “métro” and people give me a strange look.

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