Pretend To Be Foreign

Posted on | December 11, 2008 | 9 Comments

Language learners often agonize at occasions when they try to practice a language with the natives, only to receive responses in their own language (often English). Imagine the reverse happens. Someone greets you in your learning language. But the fact that the language was also foreign to her was so obvious that you would not even try to embarrass her by replying in the same language.

I went into a French café restaurant tonight in Atlanta, GA. I was at once greeted with a “Bonsoir” by a waitress. Come on! All the servers in the restaurant looked so American! I was nice enough to reply with a “Bonsoir”. But later I wondered why I bothered to do so. If they thought I was a francophone, and tried to speak my language, then I would appreciate their effort. But please don’t try to impress your customers by pretending to be a foreigner. The authenticity of the restaurant is judged by its food, not by the greetings, the music, nor the paintings on the walls. I cannot imagine how embarrassed they would become if a real francophone drops by and starts throwing some French at them.

This phenomenon seems to come up quite often in many supposedly-foreign restaurants. In Toronto, most Japanese restaurants are run by Chinese (the rest are run by Koreans). Sometime, they would greet the incoming customers with a loud “IRASSHAIMESA”! That is annoying. Stop it!

This also reminds me of those gondoliers singing in the fake canal inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Can’t they hire someone who at least look a bit like an Italian!

Having said that, I feel sorry for those servers and gondoliers. Quite often, it is their bosses who forced them into performing those stupid stuns.


9 Responses to “Pretend To Be Foreign”

  1. Keith
    December 11th, 2008 @ 10:55 pm

    Perhaps she was a college student majoring in French. Did you ask about her French studies? It would be cool if she spoke to the customers in English with a French accent and threw in a few “ooh la la.”

  2. justin
    December 12th, 2008 @ 12:04 am

    you’re crazy for caring so much, a word is a word. do you tell your friends off if they bid you adieu with “ciao” because it might cause you to accidentally sneeze back at them in Italian?

  3. edwin
    December 12th, 2008 @ 10:48 am

    Good one, Keith!

  4. Kelly
    December 20th, 2008 @ 6:56 am

    While I agree with you on some points, I think you got yourself too upset about such a minor thing. It was a French restaurant so hearing the staff greet you in French doesn’t necessarily mean they thought you were French. To me, I would have assumed it was to create some sort of atmosphere, just as you hear Spanish-language music at many tapas and Mexican restaurants or see Chinese calligraphy at some Chinese restaurants.

    At the end of the day, if you want an authentic Francophone experience and enjoy real French cuisine, you’re better off going to a restaurant in France or any other Francophone country as you will rarely get authentic food in a restaurant abroad (I’ve given up looking for authentic Japanese and Chinese food in the Netherlands!) 😉

  5. Milan
    January 14th, 2009 @ 12:44 am

    “This phenomenon seems to come up quite often in many supposedly-foreign restaurants. In Toronto, most Japanese restaurants are run by Chinese (the rest are run by Koreans). Sometime, they would greet the incoming customers with a loud “IRASSHAIMESA”! That is annoying. Stop it!”

    Ever so common in Hong Kong. I reckon they don’t even know what it means!

  6. Beau
    January 23rd, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    It’s irasshaimase, got the “E” and “A” mixed up. I don’t really think this complaint is legit. My main reason being is that I have traveled with other Americans to foreign countries and my compatriots would often greet people in the native language of the country(a little ohayou gozaimasu in Japan, a Guten Tag in Germany etc.) But never know anything else, or even try to learn anything else. That’s why they try to speak English to us. Don’t blame them, it’s the tourists. What’s worse than the toursists to me though are the backpacking travelers that live basically in gutters during their travels(aka hippie bums) who see their journey to other cultures as some mystical journey a la the movie “Map for Saturday”. After which they’ll be more enlightened then the 80 or so percent of Americans who never get a passport. Movie was decent, but I hated that guy by the end. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting.

  7. Hector
    January 26th, 2009 @ 7:01 pm

    Hahahaha, nice story!

  8. WC
    February 10th, 2009 @ 7:52 am

    When I worked as a cashier (several times) I was told each time that customers like to hear their name. It makes them happy. Personally, I -hate- it when strangers call me by name. But they were correct, and most people like it. So I did my job as asked.

    It’s the same here. Most customers like atmosphere, and being greeted in French creates atmosphere. Most ‘francophiles’ will know that the server doesn’t actually speak French and not even try to converse in it, unless they have no other choice.

    (For the record, I like the them to do this… But then, I love learning languages, so I’m going to like it whenever someone talks to me in another language.)

  9. edwin
    February 10th, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    Isn’t that a failure of the owner to provide a more genuine foreign atmosphere? Quit often it requires putting in only a bit more effort. For example, he could train the waitresses to pronounce ‘Bonjour’ with a French ‘j’ instead of an English one.

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