I spotted the following headline in some newspaper, which made me think. I recalled the stuff called “white bread” that one finds for sale in US supermarkets. There is little resemblance to bread I buy at German bakeries or enjoy on trips to France.
White bread is not the dieter's friend: A new study claims it can foster obesity
French people, who eat well and are notoriously not overweight, have surely not seen this study. Few, if any, would agree with the result. Most would laugh and mumble something about crazy Americans. Anyone having spent even fleeting moments in France will recall seeing citizens carrying armloads of baguettes every morning and evening. Each citizen downs more than one “serving” of white bread a day and does not suffer from obesity. Perhaps the reason lies in eating bread made by a baker and not wrapped in plastic from a factory in New Jersey.
Why do Americans hate (or, rather, are told to hate) France, the French, and anything French. Few know anything about the country or culture the France. In contrast, Americans tend to like or tolerate Germany and things German (about which most know just as little).
History suggests that the US should be BFF with France, since they have always been allies and have never faced each other in war, unlike the Germans and British. Americans tend to forget (or never learn) that the Revolution was fought against the English (France was the only friend, because they hated the English), and Britain is the only nation to attack the United States. English troops set fire to the White House, but tend to be forgiven. Instead of appreciation for friendship, the French suffer denigration and insult. (Because of this, I refuse to order freedom fries.)
I believe the reason that American citizens are told to dislike France by politicians and media puppets is that the French do not respond to the beck and call of American leaders and tend to have a mind of their own. This is not allowed in the US worldview. Germans tend to be obedient by nature and suffer a bit from having lost two wars (with some rather appalling behavior during the last one). Like the kid that becomes water boy for the football team, because he is not big enough to play, Britain wants to hang out with the US and do its bidding. The French don't care about being liked or disliked; they just want things their way...just like Americans.
This is an interesting article, and not just for those interested in languages. What the guy writes makes sense, something rarely finds in opinion pieces.
Everyone should learn languages, but it helps if the one chosen is useful. When I was in school, the only language offered--language study was required--was French or Latin. I was smart enough to know that learning language was difficult...and worthless, so I chose the lesser of two challenges. I did not have any use for French, but I could imagine traveling to France at some point in my life. And, a version of the language was spoken just up the road in Quebec. Usefulness has been limited, although a few words do come back during vacations in France...only to be immediately forgotten upon crossing the border.
Now, I would urge anyone willing to listen to learn Chinese, because these folks will rule the world long after I am gone. The combination of English and Mandarin should be useful on the international stage. Anyone staying home, can get by with the local language, although knowledge of English will be useful for understanding entertainment products. I cannot imagine Chinese music or films conquering the world.
Even people speaking poor English can make themselves understood, which explains why the language has conquered the world. American students have it easy, because English is not a difficult language to learn and the grammar is simple. The best parts are that there is only one article, the, and no need to learn such pesky bits as case of nouns and pronouns: dative, genitive, and inquisitive (I made up the last one to test you!). I discovered the little grammar I know when trying to learn French in school. Some bits have even stuck in my deep memory, only to sneak back to the forefront if I venture across the border into France.
One of the first difficulties in learning a language is presented by the article (definite: the; indefinite: a or an). French has one more than English: the masculine le (un) and the feminine la (une). This made learning vocabulary twice as difficult. Difficulty increased geometrically when trying to learn German, because not only are there more, but each influences the spelling of any adjective. The bloody language has masculine, der (ein), feminine, die (eine), and neuter, das (ein). Each case has its rules demanding innumerable changes of both article, article, and noun, such as with dative, dem (einem), accusative den (denen), and genitive, den (denen).* Sadly, there is only one way to learn them: by rote. One misses the simplicity of the.
Learning vocabulary is difficult enough, if one must learn only nouns and verbs. With verbs, one must learn tenses and memorize conjugation. In most foreign languages, one must also learn the articles that tend to complicate every noun. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason. In French, a table is feminine (la table), whereas in German the bloody thing is masculine (der Tisch). Perhaps, this explains why these two nations have been killing each other for centuries: they can’t agree on even simple things.
Today, when a 2-year old child corrected my German, I was reminded of two facts, both of which I know rather well and tend to choose to forget. The first is that children have an easier time learning a language than anyone struggling with a second language later in life. Second, I am intellectually lazy. Many years ago, I made a conscious decision not to worry about learning German articles. I learned most nouns and verbs, so I can understand almost everything and can often make myself understood. I usually get the article wrong, but have a 30% chance of being correct. People are surprised that an American speaks some German, so I get the benefit of the doubt and avoid most criticism. My children have been known to be apologetic (“My father cannot speak German very well.”), but I am not.
I sat with the child as he watched Curious George, one of his favorite television shows. Anyone familiar with the show knows that George is a monkey. The German word is Affe, which is masculine, so der Affe. There are no rules about articles, but I learned in one of my first courses that words ending in e usually are (usually) feminine. That stuck in my subconscious, so I said something about die Affe...and was immediately corrected by a damn 2-year old, who said “der Affe”. This was a knee-jerk reaction on his part, because I doubt he knows the difference between native speakers and trying-to-learn-the-language foreigners. The rest of my family have given up trying to improve my command of articles. I wonder how long he will need to join the crowd...
*NB. I do not guarantee correctness, because I did not check a grammar book. As with my daily struggles with the language, I relied on my imperfect memory.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.