Franglais: Finding out about the languages spat in Belgium


As well as being Anglophone-Francophile writers, living in French and married to French men named Olivier, Emma and Lauren have other common traits.  They both didn’t intend on becoming writers, but rather lawyers. Emma worked as a lawyer in London and Brussels, whilst Lauren planned on becoming one in the US. Inspired by a journalism class she took at university, Lauren decided to take a year out after graduation to work for a magazine. She worked as an assistant at Vogue and then a year later at The New Yorker, where she has been for the last 15 years. Emma took a less conventional route into journalism, although today it is probably a common one. She started a blog, Belgian Waffling, in 2008 and joined Twitter in 2009. Thanks to her humorous blog posts and tweets on the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of Belgian and family life, her writing gained traction and offers of work from editors in Belgium and the UK.  

Stories also played an instrumental role in leading Lauren and Emma to journalism. “The part I really liked about lawyering was that it was a form of reporting. I loved hearing improbable stories, interviews of people about every minutiae of their lives in order to establish a case,” says Lauren. When visiting Olivier in Normandy during her university holidays, Emma devoured novels by Zola and Proust as well as the salacious gossip magazine Voici. In Paris, she wrote long, daily emails to friends, reporting on her day.

Emma and Lauren’s attachment to French is an emotional one, but its source differs. Emma fell in love with the language and culture first, the Frenchman second; for Lauren, it was the opposite. They have both struggled and thrived in French-speaking cities. Emma’s stint in Paris, having moved there shortly after her mother’s death, turned out to be more of a nightmare rather than a teenage fantasy come true. Her memoir accounts of her being subject, on a daily basis, to a “barrage of criticism” from pernickety neighbours, rude passers-by and shouty dry-cleaners. “Paris is a hard work city,” says Emma. “It expects a lot of you, your dress, how you express yourself. If I went out dressed like a hobo in Paris, it hugely affected how I was treated.” In Paris, she lost confidence in French, a language she has been fluent in since her teens.