Holy freedom fries! Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has recently taken some heat in a few Democratic circles - not for salacious behavior and not for cheating hard-working folks out of their retirement savings, but because he speaks French! (He learned the language as a missionary in France during the 1960s.)
Whatever your political bent, you probably know the old joke: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Answer: Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Answer: Bilingual. What do you call someone who can speak only one language? Answer: An American!
Bravo to Romney for breaking the mold.
Those who share the provincial point of view of Romney's critics and don't want to speak a word of la belle langue, take note: You will have to drastically curtail your use of English, since many of the words and phrases we use (ballet, bouquet, joie de vivre and carte blanche, to name but a few) are French.
It may be best if these anglophiles resort to communication in sign language for risk of making a faux pas and actually pronouncing one of the high percentage of English words that have their roots in French.
If, for reasons of language discrimination, the anti-French speakers forgo the pleasures of a trip to the country that was actually America's first ally, they'll need to remember that there are around 50 other countries with a French connection where French is spoken as either the first or second language. Are they going to boycott those countries as well?
Many of the Americans who do venture across the pond to France proudly proclaim that they don't speak a word of French. These folks miss out on some great cultural exchanges; in addition, they frequently punish their taste buds by eschewing such delicacies as coq au vin, bouillabaisse and crème caramel in favor of "un hamburger avec du ketchup" … actually "beaucoup de ketchup et un milkshake." C'est dommage (that's too bad).
French is a source of communication for millions of people. It is also considered one of the most beautiful languages in the world. So while you're out buying some last-minute holiday presents - possibly Louis Vuitton luggage, an Hermès scarf or fleur de lys brooch (all of which I've seen right here in Tucson), you might want to consider a gift to yourself of some French lessons. Our local chapter of the Alliance Française is a good place to start. You might just run into people who don't consider speaking French a handicap.
Au contraire, it could add a lot to your cachet!
Freelance writer Barbara Russek is a former classroom French teacher. She welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net