My university is fabulous to say the least! It has a student bar (yes, with alcohol–quite shocking), sheep to mow the lawn, table tennis courts, multiple cafeterias, and a forest to walk through on your way to class.
I walked into the first day of my intensive French class on Tuesday morning and this fabulous, fit, blonde woman walked in with her brown Louis Vuitton bag and matching belt that wrapped around her perfect waist over a cashmere black sweater and matching trousers that were perfectly cropped over her brown Coach wedges. She organized all the lesson plans by color and they were perfectly laid out on the table in front of her. Her name is Mme Anisod.
Gareth and I, the only fluent English speakers in the class, sat next to each other in the front row. First mistake on our part.
We weren’t ten minutes into class before she called on me. “Comment-vous-appelez-vous?” she said, enunciating every consonant and her eyes steady on the class.
“Je m’appelle Rachel.” I said.
“Bon, Rachèle, vous viennez d’où?” She asked without a smile, her eyes fixed on me.
“Je suis américane.” I responded, as I have so many times this week.
To my surprise, the rest of the class gave an excited “oh” instead of the harsh silence I thought I would hear.
In French, Mme Anisod responded “Oh, you look like you speak English.”
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to take that. How did she know? Am I that obviously anglophone?
After an hour and half of lecture and a few side notes to tell me to take notes in complete sentences (and not telling my neighbors that), she gave the class a 15 minute break. I turned to Gareth and said something in English and she came over and scolded me. I am thinking that my French is going to get really precise over the next couple weeks. Mme Anisod scares me–plain and simple.
Later that day, I felt like people just knew that I spoke English without talking to me. It was an odd paranoia but I couldn’t shake it off. Everyone I spoke to in French would ask if I spoke English after a couple sentences. How do they know? I kept thinking. Why am I so easy to pick out? What makes someone a nationality? Their appearance? Their language? Their culture? What makes a person identifiable?
What makes me so American? And why do so many people think I’m British? I began to grow self conscious and avoided speaking to people I didn’t know if I could help it.
Then a boy asked me for directions. I answered in French, and then he asked if I spoke English. I sighed “Yes! How did you know?”
His answer: “You have an accent.”
Oh. I have an accent. That had not even occurred to me. An accent was something my grandfather and foreign people have–not me.
Then it hit me–I am foreign! When did I get an accent? I thought I was fitting in perfectly well before, now he had to go and point out that I have an accent.
Right after that, I met Jérôme for lunch. He spoke about how friendly Americans are and how much he loves the accent. So it became official–I am a foreigner with an accent.