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20-40-60 Etiquette---Don't shut us out!


By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: I serve in a volunteer capacity with my son. Other fathers are also present, and the group is very cohesive. One sticky matter is that one dad often enjoys speaking French to his son whenever we are together. Initially, people were impressed, before a feeling of exclusion developed.

They are not foreign-born, speak good old English as their native tongue and aren't practicing for a school class or playing a game. It is really impolite to shut everyone else out of the conversation.

Should I say something or let the father continue with his word games?

CALLIE'S ANSWER: I would leave it alone, but most men I know take issues head-on. If that is you, go for it! I am sure he will apologize. Maybe they are studying for a class?

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Sure it is impolite to exclude others, but I'm not sure what you can do in this situation since you're not the one doing it. Can you ask them why they speak French so much? Or mention to them, in a lighthearted way, that the entire group is always so curious about what they're saying. “Are you all talking about us?” you could joke. If that's not enough to encourage them to drop it, then I think you're stuck letting them talk.

It would almost be easier to deal with if this were a true language barrier and you could learn more about people who speak a different language than English. It's fun to hear someone learning and actively practicing another language in this country. I wish more of us were bilingual. Learning another language can lead to greater connections between us and more understanding of others.

But, in this case, since there isn't a real language barrier involving the people speaking it, I do understand your frustration and unease, especially if the father and son appear to be using this distinction to talk about others in the group.

HELEN'S ANSWER: Do you think they are practicing for a trip to France? You might ask them that. Or you might just let it go, since the point of that conversation is probably so that they can only converse together, or to show that they are bilingual.

It is impolite for them talk to someone in another language in front of someone who cannot understand what they are saying. They should leave the group and talk somewhere else.

GUEST'S ANSWER: Matthew Price, The Oklahoman's Features Editor: If they are having extensive conversations in French while excluding the rest of the group, that seems unusual to me.

It's possible this is being done for some out-of-school learning, but if it's awkward for the group, why not ask him about it? “I can't help but notice you are speaking extensively in French. None of the rest of us can understand you. Would you mind translating for us?” Or just ask him in general, “Why do you two speak in French so often?”

If none of that appeals, I suppose you could learn enough French to jump into the conversation yourself the next time — Quelle surprise!

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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›

Callie Athey

Callie Athey is 20-something and is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various positions, ranging from Event Coordinator to Environmental Health and Safety Assistant. Currently, Callie is an Executive Assistant to a... Read more ›