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How do I deal with this situation - I can't ask anyone in real life.

(51 Posts)
ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 12:52:18


I feel like people irl will judge me if I talk to them about this. I don't know what to do though and i can't stop crying or eat and I feel like such a failure.

I live overseas in a modern-type European country but in a region that doesn't like 'outsiders'. I have had various issues over time with a few native people who seemed to have an agenda but I have been getting a much thicker skin about it, even though I shouldn't have to imo.

This morning at play group, out of the blue a woman told me that she would only speak X language with me, because she's decided its better for me - okay, bit rude but not taken as such because thats normal within this culture. No problem says I, good idea. But then she really gets into it and says I can only speak X language from now on to the whole group because its a X group, for X people and its better for the group if I never speak English, that its spoils the group. She then talked some more about this and kept asking - 'do you understand me? Do you understand me? I said no, that she was talking to fast and using a lot of words I didnt know. We were sitting around a large table. Everyone was staring at me and laughed when I said I didnt understand. She tutted at me and then shut-up. No one spoke to me again. I left after that - just humiliated and feeling really, really stupid. I told the leader what I thought and she said the woman was wrong and she would tell her that she can't tell me what to do. She said please come back next week. I had tears streaming down my face and again pretty embarrassing.

I thought we'd all been getting on great before this - I had been speaking bit of X, bit of English and enjoyed it. Now I feel stupid for even trying to venture out of my English groups and friends. I can't speak to my friends about this as they are mostly married to X people and they don't have the integration issues and I'm embarrassed that I've failed. My husband works at an international company and is tall and confident, although he is also a foreigner here noone ever gives him shit about his accent or tries to imtimidate him so he just thinks I make it up.

How do I go back to the group next week? Noone saw me cry, but they saw me leave early and the leader will have had a chat with this woman. How should I deal with the woman? I just want my son to have his play group and I can bear to sit alone if needs be.

Sorry this is so long - I just feel so terrible and need someone to understand and hopefully get some advice. I just feel so alone, I'm really shocked at how this has knocked me.

What a nasty cow. It isn't her place to decide what you can and can't do!

I'm a bit confused by the languages though - presumably X is the native language of the relevant country? So in some ways they are actually doing you a favour by talking English to you?

I did the third year of my degree in France, so I get how hard this must be for you. I have always suffered badly with self esteem issues and the laughter would have made me super paranoid. I became an expert at guessing whether questions required yes or no answers and mostly blagged my way through the first few months grin

I would make yourself go next week and just play it by ear. Speak to her in X, but take your lead from the others. Anyone with half an ounce of compassion would applaud you for your efforts to speak in X. Anyone else (i.e. her) are horrid people you wouldn't want to be friends with anyway.

SkinnedAlive Thu 06-Oct-11 13:04:25

I also live abroad and I know how important it is to make friends both with locals and ex-pats.

This women was absolutely horrible. I am sure there were other women at the group that were horrified at her behaviour. No doubt she is a bully that picks on people weaker than herself and you are just the newest victim. Don't let her knock your confidence with the language and don't let her think that you are not welcome at the playgroup - I am sure you are.

I would not be surprised if next week other people who have been disgusted by her come over and make you feel welcome. Go back with head held high.

YoungMotherTubby Thu 06-Oct-11 13:10:06

I'm sure a lot of the other women were intimidated by her too and once they've had a chance to digest what has happened will be horrified.

Go along again with your head held high and I wouldn't try to get into a conversation with this nasty woman.

Smiling is a universal conversation and the decent women will pick up on this smile

WonkyCadonkey Thu 06-Oct-11 13:12:24

I'm afraid I haven't got any amazing advice, I just didn't want to leave you unanswered and I wanted to say that I understand. I am in exactly the same situation as you, foreign country, language barriers, husband finds it easier etc. It is so, so difficult and you're doing brilliantly, getting out there and mixing, it's more than I dare! When I do go out I get the " I'm not helping you even though I can" tough love language approach a lot. It's so frustrating and upsetting, and I know it hurts but please don't let it put you off. People think it will help, and sometimes it does encourage you to speak the language, but know it can be very hard work too. I've been in tears because I haven't understood sales assistants before, so you're not alone! Everything seems ten times worse when you're far from home. Please, please try to go back next week, the woman you spoke to may not of realised how abrupt she was being, I know people here seems to be shorter but it's just their language f you know what I mean. And remember if see is just rude that the school gates in England are exactly the same! Please try again, you're doing brilliantly x

diddl Thu 06-Oct-11 13:15:00

She behaved awfully.

And it´s awful that your husband wouldn´t believe you.

Also, I don´t see why you couldn´t speak to your friends-are they all good at the local language?

Do you think the fact that you are not married to a local has any bearing on how you were treated?

fastweb Thu 06-Oct-11 13:18:27

Oh sweetheart

She was being a moo, you'll get there with the language in your own time, its nobody's place to decide that they are in charge of the mode or place.

The speaking English in playgroup probably did upset the dynamic for certain members, if it went from a place they could participate fully, to being cut out of converation at time.

But that isn't carte blanche to put the boot in to you as a backdoor way to getting the message across to all members that she (and anybody who agrees with her) wants to go back to monolingual.

Take day or so to let the inital burn die down, then think about what you get from the group and is it worth battling ahead.

Big Fat Hug love, I do know how it feels to be a new mummy, not at home, and not in my language.

The only way from here is up, I promise. Things do by and large get much easier.

ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 13:25:49

Thanks for answering Everyone your kind words are cheering me up

Thing is, my X speaking is actually okay considering I only lived here 2 years, what I struggle with is understanding the local accent and dialect so rather than stand there with my mouth hanging open I will switch into English for a bit and then if the other person goes to English we stay there and if they go back to X, I speak X again. Its probably more work for the other person but they all speak at least a bit of English which usually people are falling over themselves to prove and to tell you about when they went to England! I just can't ever remember disrespecting someone's English like this - its just nice that you can communicate...

diddl my friends... hmmm.. they've all been here longer and can speak X at home. Its clear that they don't have an understanding of what it would be like if you didn't have an X man standing next to you, knowing how things work and how to access stuff. Certainly things have been said to me in the past that made me think 'this person doesn't have a clue what its like to start from absolute scratch'. If thats the case then I worry that it makes me look like I'm failing because they don't have these problems. Its true my husband doesn't have a f* clue half the time. He is just in his work bubble.

Nomenclature Thu 06-Oct-11 13:30:22

I lived for a few years in a European country. It was one of those countries where some people felt that they had the right to tell other people what to do for their own good. These self-appointed life coaches were bullies. Unfortunately there was a certain level of sexism in the country which meant that such comments would be made to women but not to men. I guess that this is happening where you are. Tell your husband that you are not making it up and that he doesnt know what he is talking about!

We found that a few people, based on no knowledge whatsoever, were quite happy to tell us that we should be speaking the local language at home. That this would be better for us all. Our reply to these people was that we wanted our children to be bilingual as they had family elsewhere.

Something which did help was being able to say in the local language 'I only speak a little X language but my children speak it really well because they go to the local school'. I also explained that I was trying to learn the language but it is quite hard as an adult.

Do your best in the language and keep trying. You could say to this group that you want to learn the language and can they help you by explaining how to say things and also explaining different phrases and sayings?

HerHissyness Thu 06-Oct-11 13:34:23

Oh love, poor you.

Could you get any language classes paid through your DH's work? sometimes international organisations recognise that they get more out of their employees if their wife and children are happy.

I have heard of a friend of my X who moved to Germany and was told by a person in a shop, after a while of living there that Germany is not a tourist place, while they welcome tourists, if foreigners want to come and live there, they have to speak the language, and she told him that if he wanted to be served in her shop, from then on, he had to speak German. he also wouldn't ever get a visa of more than 6m (even married) unless he spoke German.

If I were you, I'd get my best game face on and go back there, refuse to be intimidated and say that the one thing you love about home is that we are a welcoming nation, and anyone saying what she had said to you in a UK playgroup would be hounded from the room with pitchforks quietly encouraged to leave.

Perhaps you could even practice saying something like, You found her to be rather rude and that you are trying to learn the language and appreciate if some could cut you some slack until you master it, but if not, then perhaps a new playgroup would be a better fit for you. That way if this rude cow says anything to you, you will have it ready as a retort. I bet you'd not be the only one to want to stand up to her either.

The other option is to bone up in insults and accidently use them when talking to her in her language.... Oh, I didn't mean to say You are so COW, I meant KIND... grin

You will have to learn the lingo to integrate properly, you know that, the other ladies know that. Anyone being a bitch won't help you learn. I would hope that the other ladies may have felt a little sympathy since the incident and perhaps may be more kind to you when you next go.

When I lived in Brazil, there were lots of people wanting to talk to me in English and it was really helpful in the beginning. But when I spoke enough to converse, my dearest friend (who didn't speak English) would make sure I spoke perfect Portuguese, demanding more and more accuracy. 20 years on, given some time to warm up the old tongue muscles, I'm still pretty near fluent!

fastweb Thu 06-Oct-11 13:38:43

what I struggle with is understanding the local accent and dialect

Oh yeah, I hear you.

I've been here for 16 years, my husband doesn't speak much English, but at least once a week since we moved out of the city and into a rural bakcwater I end up being accosted by an old lady in dialect.

Who is convinced that my not understanding means she needs to up the volume and carry on accosting me regardless. grin

I draw the line at the local dialect, it sounds like Italian post traumatic incident that included being run over by a lawnmower.

I think you are doing brill to take not only the standard lang, but a dialect too.

In fact you are making me look bad, stop it wink

diddl Thu 06-Oct-11 13:41:46

Would your friends help with the language by speaking to you in it?

fastweb Thu 06-Oct-11 13:47:18

I've been here for 16 years, my husband doesn't speak much English, so I'm fine in the language but at least once a week....

<although my english seems to be going downhill rapidly, since I missed out half the sentence>

ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 13:50:08

Thanks for the posts.

I don't think that language is a massive problem really, I've had lessons and I speak quite well. I can have a good josh with the butcher, talk to my neighbours, discuss matters with the builder / doctors etc. Its when I get asked complex questions about stuff, especially if its an opinion thats sought because you have to be accurate - otherwise its not your opinion or experience IYSWIM. Or if someone tells you a long story especially if it had an emotional impact on them so you have to say the right things back. I think its like, I know just enough for people to think I'm more competent than I actually am.

Nomen yeah, the 'why isn't your baby wearing tights/knitted hat/snowsuit/etc? in middle of july' posse. I love those encounters - I always answer very politely and assertively and smile warmly. Then watch the person implode with frustrated nosiness.

I think I just need to hoist my tits up and get back in that group, maybe have a little fun with that woman like Hissy says.

ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 13:54:51

"Italian post traumatic incident that included being run over by a lawnmower"

Ours is - you have a chesty cough and sore throat, you decide to stuff 6 or 7 toffees in your mouth, chew them and shout at the same time'.

I've had a sandwich... feeling a lot better. Thanks again smile

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Thu 06-Oct-11 13:54:55

It's her issue, not yours. She's got a massive chip on her shoulder about language issues, and a strong believe that things "should" be this way or that. Pity the woman for having such a rigid, unhappy soul. Don't let her dogmatism make you doubt yourself.

If you really can't face it again and feel too vulnerable, then don't return to the playgroup. But you can return there with complete confidence that YOU are not the problem: you are what you are (a foreigner), and you have been gracious and game about using what language skills you do have in that playgroup. Keep up that attitude, and keep asking people to slow down or repeat if they speak too fast for you.

You're making an effort, she's putting up obstacles. I'm sure the other women in the group can tell what's what and can see she's being a pushy cow towards you. Reach out with chit chat to the friendlier ones and ignore the cow as much as is polite.

If she starts imposing her made-up rule that it is an X group for X speakers only again, you can stand up to it in lots of different ways: for example, you could smile sweetly and say "I'm not fluent in X yet, as I'm sure you all understand", or you could be more assertive with "Are you saying that you think I should leave this group because I am not fluent?"

And just reassure yourself that she's the one with the problem. You're not the problem here.

fastweb Thu 06-Oct-11 13:58:42

I think its like, I know just enough for people to think I'm more competent than I actually am

That's very common, the old over estimate thing.

Can I make a suggestion, is the telly in the dialect ?

Cos if it is I can recommend having it on as background noise for a few months to really help with getting one from "just the gist" to getting the details.

You don't have to listen intensivly, just get on with you stuff and let your ears get used to the sounds.

Do go back love, you might find her with her tail between her legs after everybody made a cats bum face at her for making you cry.

Take hanky, dab occasionally, milk for all it is worth grin

Ten to one she sees herself as being very important in the group and perhaps other "lesser" members having an edge over her with English made her feel her place in the pecking order was threatened.

NotQuiteCockney Thu 06-Oct-11 14:18:24

The woman who was being a bully, how good is her English? When I was learning French, the only people who were ever rude to me about my French, were people whose English was dreadful ...

ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 14:24:09

Well, one of the things she declared before she said I could only speak German to the group was that she had lived in America for 5 years and her English was perfect. So she's just Miss Perfect Smarty Pants smile

Cheeseandharps Thu 06-Oct-11 14:28:40

No advice for you Art, but I've had similar in a German-speaking country. I think this woman would be a twat wherever she was from sad

fastweb Thu 06-Oct-11 14:30:47

oh I bet the "I speak pefect English thing" was a boast long before you turned up and risked her self evaluation being put to the test.

She is shutting down you showing her up, when caught out in a bit of a fib.

ArtVandelay Thu 06-Oct-11 14:31:28

Ooh - revealed location. Was just trying to get a neutral view really, not trying to be funny!

CroissantNeuf Thu 06-Oct-11 14:31:30

Art and fastweb -my MIL swears by listening to local radio stations via DAB to expand her knowledge and understanding of local dialects.

Sushiqueen Thu 06-Oct-11 14:59:28

You will find as well that people from other parts of the country will also struggle to understand the local dialect. Just as they do in the UK sometimes.

I lived in North Germany and (used to) spoke fluent German at the time. I often speak German to a friend of mine who comes from Berlin. We have no problems understanding each other. However another friend comes from Bavaria and even the friend from Berlin (who was born and lived there for most of her life) struggles to understand some of what she says.

They use different words for the same thing and there is often a puzzled look on one of the faces smile

I would go back to the group next week and carry on as you have been doing. Your language skills sound great and the local dialect will gradually come with practice. You are making an effort and the majority of the mums there will appreciate that.

diddl Thu 06-Oct-11 15:14:35

"Ooh - revealed location"

The tights/hat/snowsuit combo gave it awaywink

I´m still sh!t at the language despite too many years here but fortunately haven´t come across what you have.

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