What is reverse xenophobia and is it found in France we ask at PumpjackPiddlewick

I have come across something new – reverse xenophopia.
If you have never (knowingly) encountered ‘xenophobia’ – it is the fear or dislike of anything perceived as foreign.

As someone who has lived in many countries, I have encountered xenophobia here and there. A neighbour in the UK who would only speak to my English partner as I wouldn’t understand her. (Even though English is my native tongue, it was not the right English). An Argentinian who told me it was not possible for me to speak Spanish, even though we were having a conversation in spanish. Luckily these were not often occurrences, but interestingly memorable.

As a foreigner choosing to live in France, and not a native French speaker, I do (rarely) encounter xenophobia. In fact, I must say that very much predominantly there is more a fascination and interest by the French in my foreignness. Curiosity resulting in a chance to ask questions.

The odd time I do encounter xenophobia it has more to do with my ability in French. Or perceived lack of the French language. So really this isn’t true xenophobia, but rather a lack of communications skills. On my behalf as I am still learning French. And on their behalf because they don’t have the patience, or understanding, to wait for me to translate in my head.

However, I did recently encounter reverse xenophobia. And yes, it is a thing. It is where someone expects you to be foreign and when you aren’t they show disdain for you. You are, put simply, not what they want.

I have been working on a canal barge as a tour guide on the Canal de Bourgogne (Burgundy Canal). We have guests onboard for the week. Always English speaking countries; American, Australian, Canadian, English… . Foreigners to France if you will.

Our crew is predominantly French. There are 6 of us, 4 are from France, 1 from Bulgaria and me. We all speak English, to varying degrees, with me as the only native English speaker. I have found this can be a comfort to those passengers who do not speak French or may feel a little uncomfortable amongst a foreign language. A comfort of the familiar in a foreign land. They know I will be able to understand them, communicate clearly with them, particularly if there is an emergency.

But, I have discovered that of the very few guests that speak French, well or not, they don’t wish to know me. Are even sometimes rude. They only wish to speak to the French crew, though the majority of the time in English. Go figure.

The French crew, to them, represent France. Not someone who chose to live in France. Hence my discovery of reverse xenophobia. And that it is actually a thing. (There’s even a study on it.) But I get it. Not the xenophobia bit, after all who wishes to be disliked because of their accent. But I do understand the immersion ideal when visiting another country. A chance to go ‘local’.

Having worked in tourism for a couple decades, this is not a new concept, wishing to live like or amongst the locals. The idea is becoming more and more popular. I have already had a suggestion from a passenger of being invited to dinner in a villagers’ house. Easier when it is 2 or 4, harder when it is 10 or 12 to offer that ‘authentic’ immersion. (And of note, a French villager who speaks good English was preferred, as this person did not speak French.)

For me it raises the question of whether to stay involved in tourism in the future, or at least whilst living in France. If there is a desire, even a requirement by some, possibly even including businesses, that those that tourists deal with are English speaking French people, that narrows my options quite a bit. Or maybe it is a call to improve my French and work with French people, where my accent is more a curiosity.


If you are a lover of France, do come join our Facebook group ‘Fab Findings from France‘. And if you are a lover of French things, I hope you will check out my French Silk Scarf Shop, as well as our Pumpjack & Piddlewick Shop. Here’s a taste below:

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