It's said that America has a love-hate relationship with France. Sure, they helped us win our Revolution, and we bailed them out in two World Wars.
A couple of years ago some friends entertained their 15 year old French nephew at their home in Key Largo for the summer. The idea was that the lad should learn English. He seemed to acquit himself well with the locals, and spent many an hour shooting baskets with new friends at a nearby court.
We thought it was only right that he should be treated to a canoe and kayak tour in the Lower Keys one day.After all, the Keys are a unique environment, and there is a lot more to the place than a basketball court and a few video games. He can have that at home. So we set out on one of the mangrove creeks. His uncle had been an exchange student in France years ago, and was able to explain the names of the birds, fish, and other marine life we saw on our excursion. Ever trying to be the obliging host, I attempted an occasional pleasantry based on my one formal year of study of the French language (bolsterd by a passing knowledge of Haitian Creole, and a recent trip to Canada). After all, the boy had come here to learn something about our country, and hopefully to pick up a few words in English.
When we got back to the launch site, his uncle went off to find a restroom. The kid (who hadn't yet uttered a word of English) turned to me and says, "Yo, flip me the keys to your truck. I'll turn it around for ya."
It was one of those cases where you're not really sure if you heard what you think you heard. "Excusez-moi?" I said.
"Your keys, man. Let me have the keys, and I'll bring the truck around."
"Why, you little son-of-a-gun! You mean to tell me you've been able to speak English the whole time? And you let me struggle trying to explain things to you in French?!"
He answered in his own language, with a smart-alec grin. This time I got the gist of it. "Well, you need all the practice you can get, man!"
Memo to my monolingual countrymen: You were right. They can speak it. They just don't want to!