Philippe asks about the shop clerks in Montréal:
I am not shy about speaking French in stores, coffee shops, etc., but the problem is that most clerks peg me for an anglo immediately and respond in English.
Should I just continue to stumble through in French (at the linguistic level of a three year old) or is there some sort of polite “signal” I can give them that tells them I am taking French immersion and forbidden to speak English?
My advice: Try not to worry about it for now. By all means, continue on in French if you have the desire and nerve for it in these situations. There’s nothing stopping you, and Montréal is your playground for learning French. As for signals, continuing on in French yourself is a pretty good one, I think.
But if the exchange ultimately slips into English, don’t beat yourself up. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure in French. Just let it go and try again next time.
Besides, you can’t control the behaviour of others anyway, and much less that of a clerk who may not be very interested in your desire to improve your French.
Yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s a waste of your energy worrying about it. More important, I feel, are the bonds that you manage to form with francophones — friends, co-workers, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. The conversations that occur in French with people that you’ve formed a bond with is where you’ll really advance in French and get beyond your current level.
Exchanges with clerks are generally short and shallow. Once you’ve learned the basics of ordering in a restaurant, it all becomes routine and there isn’t much more to learn.
On the other hand, the conversations you’ll have with people that you’ve formed a bond with will be an endless source of learning opportunities. You’ll always be required to express yourself in ever more complex ways. Focus your efforts on this instead.
Then, as your linguistic ability increases, I think that the question of being able to carry out exchanges completely in French with clerks will take care of itself with time.
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