How I learnt to Stop Caring and Just Chilled

“So you must know French then?”

Spoiler Alert! My answer is usually a resounding “No!” or a little less decisive “Kinda.”

Okay, let me put this into context: I’ve heard that question countless times since I made Toronto my home, about twenty years ago. Amazingly, being asked if I’m fluent in the official language of the province where I was born and raised for over twenty years would normally trigger such paralyzing, existential angst. The answer I provided would not meet the questioner’s expectations and would ultimately leave us both disappointed and somewhat empty. I’ve labeled this communication faux-pas -“Language Shaming”.

Yes, it’s really a thing. Rarely done out of malicious intent, some people just tend to make assumptions as to what language should be spoken fluently based on your actual and perceived country of origin. When their assumptions turn out to be false, shock and dismay typically sets in due to failed expectations.

The children of immigrants typically have an easier time assimilating to the culture and mores of their new home than their parents. That being said, children are caught between two cultures that demand not only their compliance but also whole hearted acceptance.  This can be most challenging when children are teenagers.

The parents are eager to pass on the traditions and moral values that they were taught to their offspring. School is more than just instilling practical knowledge but also helping understand social norms and appropriate peer interactions.  The stress of the competing agendas of the two cultures can lead to an inability to adopt the best of both to forge their own identity.

So let’s keep language shaming to a minimum. There are plenty of other, legitimate things that we can shame each other about.

Gregory Bourne, System Support Associate|Toronto, Ontario|March 15, 2017

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