At the beginning of the week, I popped at my local chemist to run an errand. I have attended this chemist since just before becoming a mum. It is a small shop with a friendly owner, a lovely small town-feel in the greater Paris area; which usually feels cold and impersonal.
This middle-aged gentleman has known my two kids ever since they were born, and has witnessed how they have grown into little girls. Last Monday, his shop was unusually empty and he was at his counter. As he served me, he kindly inquired if he could ask how come I speak to my daughter in English. At first, I felt extremely shy and embarrassed. In France, a strongly monolingual society, it is not that common to raise bilingual, and specially not when you yourself are French! The latter would often be seen in a negative light either with envy, as being elitist, or as being bad for the child (the usual myths about bilingualism).
Though overtime I have learned not to shy away from using the minority language in public, I still feel uneasy about talking about it, as I fear hurtful unwelcome comments. Yet, on this occasion, it was a lovely reminder not to clam up, but to take pride in what we are doing. From my chemist’s curiosity sprouted a friendly 10-minute chat about my trilingual family and language education delivered in the French state schools. He also discovered my daughters speak Spanish too, which he had not realised as he hardly sees my husband. He was in awe at our trilingual choice and backed it unconditionally.
This conversation might seem insignificant, but as a bilingual parent it was a reminder to be proud of our decision. By shying away, we miss out on the comfort of such heart-warming support and the opportunity to “educate” monolingual society by talking more openly about this little known topic. By shying away, we give more importance to negative feedback than to these positive comments.
So if you still find it difficult to use the minority language in public or shy away from discussions on your bilingual family, take a deep breath and go for it! Though we often dread negative comments, there also are encouraging and supportive people out there, and we must not give them less credit than the negative ones!