The stories I know

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“But you’re French!” they exclaim incredulously. “Why do you speak so good English?” they add (in a thick Dutch accent).

Here is a list of things I could say:

  • I was abducted by American truckers at the age of 8 and they raised me as one of their own.
  • I am Canadian French.
  • I learned everything I know from High School Musical 3.
  • My great-grandparents were French but I like to say that I am French too because it makes me seem cooler.
  • I went to an international high school.
  • I have to speak perfect English for religious reasons.

But none of the above ever makes the cut; I am a decent human being who likes to keep the best of her sass for dinner parties with friends. Instead, I’ll mumble some kind of a shy thank you with a quick word about how I’ve always liked the English language and maybe kind of taught myself and anyway what’s your name? This absurd situation – being asked why I speak English so well by a stranger – happens to me a surprising amount. People (mostly Dutch people) cannot wrap their heads around it. A French person with no French accent is, apparently, unheard of.

From there, the conversation may go on to:

  • The person telling me how bad French people are at speaking English
  • The person telling me how rude/unhelpful French people are to foreigners (and asking me why)
  • The person insisting to find out a good enough reason for my incredible language competence
  • The person trying to speak a few words of French to me – which is usually lovely, but also kills the conversation as they just throw random words at me while I quietly applaud their performance.

So when I meet someone new I usually feel quite nervous about revealing where I am from, knowing full well that I am going to have to fight off the aggressive questions and explain that yes, I am indeed French, and yes, I can speak English for no particularly outstanding reason, and that yes, I am very sorry to hear that my people have been horrible to you in the past but no, we are not all like that.

Ultimately this is a very nice problem to have. I am also aware that Dutch people are just a straight-forward bunch who may lack a bit of tact when complimenting my English. So I’m not mad, Nederland. I get it. But… know your audience.

Do you have any sassy come-backs I could use?