Childhood in France (while not speaking french)

Simon Devon
6 min readJan 3, 2020
Image Credit Anthony Delanoix

“You grew up in France? You must be fluent in French.”

Nope.

Ok fine, I’ll explain. I was born in California, but only lived there till I was a few months old. My Scottish parents moved us all to Noisy-Le-Roi; A suburban town west of Paris, France. We lived there till I was six years old, and then we all moved back to Glasgow. You’ll notice I said moved back to and not moved to. I’ll get to that…

My earliest memory, the moment I think my brain switched on, that I can think of clearly is a pleasant one. I was staring in awe at a decadent looking chocolate cake with several M&Ms on top forming a number 3. I don’t remember specifically eating said cake; but in my (probably shortened) lifetime I likely have eaten enough pieces of chocolate cake to feed Glasgow in one night.

My Parents were Glaswegian. So it makes sense to say they were moving back. But aside from trips back to spend Christmas with aunts, uncles and cousins I had rarely actually been there. In spite of this…

I consider Glasgow my home town, not Noisy-Le-Roi.

Since I’ve lived there for most of life it makes more sense to call Glasgow home then France. I’ve been reluctant to speak about Noisy-Le-Roi at all really. And since I wasn’t born there I hardly ever needed to. When people ask me where I’m from I tend skip over this part of my life for a variety of reasons. I have memories of being bullied by french children my age (or a few years older) by impersonating me and copying my speech. (Me screaming “Go away!” And having it parroted back to me in french accents was quite common.) Or else just being laughed at by other kids for my general demeanour.

Now that’s not to say I had no good memories. In fact, I remember having a blast dancing to Tutti Frutti by Little Richard on repeat with my older sister and younger brother, and I specifically remember visiting my youngest sister in the hospital when she was born. And also I did manage to make some friends; the kind who would build lego empires with me. Also, chocolate cake! And of course my parents raised me with kindness and patience. Especially patience since I would do things like break mirrors, lose my favourite stuffed blue bunny and…

I would make up my own language.

That’s right. 0–6 year old me was so stubborn about learning french that I would speak in gibberish.That’s right, gibberish. Brexiteers would be proud. Apparently whenever I was brought to the doctor by my mother, I would INSIST on making up my own words. They assured my mother it was adorable, and that she should record it.

Naturally now that I’m older I do regret not learning the language not just because being able to speak another language is generally quite useful, but it’s a whole world and a part of myself that if I had just embraced a little more then perhaps I might . My older sister is able to speak it and she is not much older then me. So my excuses are pretty thin at best. It can be a sore point sometimes. One person who made me feel really ashamed was a french teacher at school. (obviously) So much so that I ended up dropping the subject the moment I was able to.

There are other embarrassing things I’ve done and said that have been captured on film. One of those moments being when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “A Daddy!?”

And since we’re on the subject of cringe so pure you’d likely find Kanye snorting it; allow me to tell you about the single most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done as a child…

There was a small carnival/fair at my older sisters school. (I was at a different nursery at the time.) Families were encouraged to attend with their children and there was a variety of games to play; bopping for apples, pin the tail on the donkey, etc. You know: the usual silly fun and games. I was there with my family in a white t-shirt with some pink writing on it and shorts. (The clothing details will be relevant later.)

I remember there being a stage at one end of the fair. And at some point during the day groups of children (I assume classes) were brought onto the stage to sing and perform various different songs. Folks were generally sat around watching the shows and also amongst their classes. Many were sat on the floor in front of the stage. I was also sat at the front, watching the show, minding my own business. Remember, I don’t go to this school.

Then almost out of no where, a terrifying, large, burly french teacher motions with her comically huge arms for all the kids in the front row to stand up. She then motioned them to start to make their way onto the stage. As I was sitting in the front row I thought she also meant me…

So I followed. And SOMEHOW nobody noticed this boy in shorts and a t-shirt on stage with a whole group of other children all dressed in orange, yellow and red costumes. That is they did not notice until the song had started.

And so it started. One boy in front of me had noticed at that point that I was not supposed to be there. During the entire song he would consistently point at me and yell at me in french. I’m assuming he was asking what the hell I was doing there. (Maybe not in such colourful language, he was only three or something.) All I could think of to do in response was to just say “Shush!” And then I would continue, trying to sing a song where I didn’t know the language let alone the words. And you may have figured out what I did next…

I sang in my made up language. Because of course I fucking did.

I don’t know if anybody noticed I was making things up there, I think the singing from the other kids was too loud in general for anyone to notice. They were probably too busy wondering what the hell I was doing up there. They might have been laughing. Who knows. I can tell you for sure though… one lady was not laughing…

When the song was over, Mrs Burly (I’ve now nicknamed her) had grabbed me by my t-shirt and was yelling at me in (probably in french.) At the time I thought she might have been saying that I had ruined her classes show, that I had ruined the colour scheme, and generally wondering what the hell I was doing there. And since I didn’t understand what she was saying, I just stood there frozen in fear.

I think at some point she motioned to me that I should stay put. Well… the last time I listened to Mrs Burly I ended up crashing a french nursery show so I immediately thought “NOPE” and ran off as soon as she turned her back. I found my parents later and naturally was in very confused tears.

So as funny as that might have been for you, it was incredibly traumatic for poor little 3–4 year old Simon. It was these sort of antics that I spent most of my life trying to forget, simply because I was mortified at my own daftness.

I used to really regret a lot of the decisions I made when I was that age. For much longer then I’d like to admit. But the thing is, I was a bloody child. It’s a little harsh for me to hold young me to such a high standard. I mean I’ve made some terrible and awkward decisions in my teens and my adulthood so I’m a bit of a hypocrite. And let’s be honest, it was still a very comfortable childhood. The chocolate cake and lego wars did well to balance things out.

Also, in reality, you have likely also made some catastrophically bad decisions at that age. So come on, let’s hear it. Tell me about some embarrassing moments of yours to make me feel better about mine! I promise I won’t laugh. (Unless you want me to.)

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Simon Devon

Storytelling, digital marketing, whisky, video games and rugby. International Scot.