Today, I visited the embassy of a Francophone African country on Victoria Island to make certain inquiries.
Right from the gate, I made a point of speaking ONLY French and in as formal a manner as possible.
For those who have been following my writing for some time, you most likely to know the story of how I learnt to speak, read and write the French language(click here to read it in a new window) .
I did so by taking an intensive 3 month course in 1999, while working shifts as a 29 year old shift brewer in Guinness Nigeria’s Benin Brewery in Edo State’s Benin City.
Then (with the help of my Cameroonian teacher (Valentine – who has since returned to Douala), I visited and lived in/moved around Douala, Yaoundé, Oballa, Mendong and other parts of Cameroon over a 3 week period.- during that same year (1999) during my annual leave.
Most entertaining to look back on, today, for me, however remains the part of my story about how I had to return to Nigeria (and my job in Guinness), penniless by boat under heavy rainfall!
TIP: I wrote the book, shown below, based on my learning experiences
But back to the story about my latest visit to the embassy.
Determined to ensure I did not get turned back or given the stiff diplomatic treatment that can sometimes be meted out, I put my hard won ability to speak French to use.
And it got me the results I wanted – up to a point.
Each officer that attended to me promptly referred me onward to the next. I eventually got to a senior official, who on speaking with me, promptly stated that that the fee required to get the document I wanted was the country’s currency’s equivalent of N6, 500.0.(Nigerian Naira).
Wasting no time, he instructed his assistant to give me the application form to fill, and to collect a copy of my passport photograph.
Then he left us and went upstairs.
Motioning for me to sit down, the lady pushed the form across to the table, while speaking to two colleagues about work and their activities during the past weekend.
By the time I read through the form however, I knew I had come to a point I was not likely to be able to move beyond!
It was (of course) written in French.
But that was not the problem.
Instead it was a question towards the end of the form that asked how long I had been in Nigeria and how much longer I planned to stay in the country.
Since I was a Nigerian, I knew that the form was NOT meant for me – and filling it would be a dishonest thing for me to do, since I would effectively be pretending.
The fact that they had offered it to me however indicated that they assumed that I was a citizen of their country.- and (since I had yet to give them my name.- which would have been an instant give-away) they most likely got that impression from the way I’d spoken the language.
At this point I looked at the lady and told her “Look, I won’t be able to fill this form – because I’m actually a Nigerian”
“Vraiment?” (Translation: Really?) She and her colleague exclaimed in surprise,
“But how come you speak French so well?” she queried.
I replied by explaining (as I did earlier in this piece) how I’d learnt the language.
She responded by noting that her boss had obviously concluded I was THEIR citizen visiting Nigeria for a period, but added that since I was actually Nigerian it was unlikely that I’d be able to get the document I wanted, issued by them.
Despite saying that, she however still encouraged me to wait for him to return, so I could ask him directly.
While we waited, she and her colleagues chatted with me about the exchange rate between both countries, and possible alternative options I could pursue in the event that I got turned away.
Not long after, their boss descended the stairs, greeted a Nigerian lady who’d just arrived on appointment, and had been referred to the upper floor, before heading to his office.
Following his assistant’s que, I followed him into his office, and announced to him that my Nigerian nationality meant I could not use the form he’d referred to me.
The usual exclamation of surprise followed in which he said “Really? You’re a Nigerian? But where did you learn to speak French so well?”
After I’d supplied the usual answers, he told me I would have to get the document I wanted issued to me from the Nigerian end, and NOT from theirs.
I’d half expected this would be the case, but felt the best way to find out would be to try.
And now I had.
But even though I’d failed to get the document, I took consolation in the knowledge that I’d come away better informed about where to go and what to do,
What’s more I’d made new friends and created a positive impression that I believe can pave the way for me to see the BIG man upstairs, in the next visit I plan to pay them!
Starting tomorrow, I’ll visit the office I’ve been told will issue the document I need to me. If all goes the way they’ve told me it currently does, I should get it in 3 working days.
My key purpose for sharing this story is to SHOW the reader how being able to speak another language can equip you to progress towards your goal beyond what you (or others) would normally have been able to achieve, without that ability.
I will add that I have successfully gotten access to people and places (in French speaking societies) that would have been otherwise impossible to reach, simply by DEMONSTRATING my proficiency in the use of French, while travelling across different West African nations.
Initially stiff – even hostile – encounters with government officials or even private individuals have often dissolved into very friendly exchanges, some of which now evolved into lasting friendships.
All because I was able to speak the language of the other person(s)!
You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose by learning to speak another language.
In my case, I have a vision to deliver solutions I offer to people fitting my target audience profile across the African continent – starting from West Africa.
And Francophone West Africa, being French speaking, makes it imperative that I develop and demonstrate my proficiency of the use of the French language, to inspire them to be more willing to connect with me.
Let your decision about what language to learn be informed by the goals you need to achieve and where you need to achieve them.
Click here to learn about a Quick and Dirty Guide to English for French Speakers Excel-VB Application I created in 2013, and sold to a Beninese professional who pestered me to help him improve his command of the English Language.