Last Monday I meant to load this blog post when I could not find my website. I was directed to Go Daddy and was instructed to call Host Gator since they host my domain. It’s taken this long for the content on my website to migrate. Obviously it wasn’t a priority for them. And we’re not even in Mercury retrograde yet. Which reminds me; never let the calendar or anything else for that matter control your decisions into accepting a mishap as your fate! Anyway I’m pleased that everything is up and running.
A week ago on Friday I was at an event chatting with a man from Madagascar, when he switched to French I was somewhat stumped. And then on Saturday, over lunch when chatting about weather conditions I again turned to France and a few words spilled out.
When I was growing up and it came time to learn a third language, in my mind, I wasn’t going to stay in familiar surroundings and wherever life was taking me I was sure it would have something to do with Paris.
I gave myself my own private lessons in Berlin, through watching Canal+ on television and mimicking radio programs and going as often as I did to Paris, I said a few phrases which was enough to get by.
Many people would be terrified to live in a country where they can’t communicate but this never bothered me. I loved the intrigue at the time and still do, that wherever I traveled, I relied on non-verbal communication to read people as I do. Without adequate language skills you are forced out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to new experiences by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations to test your character on how to survive each day and make it the best it can be.
When I would arrive at my rental apartment in Paris, there was a stack of books on the fireplace mantel, faded from the sunlight streaming in the window on those gloriously quiet afternoons and dusty from the years. Sitting there, just the size of my palm, was an old french language handbook from the late 1960’s. I sat in the sunlight one October afternoon practicing the unchanged phrases of French culture and wondering as I felt the texture of the old thin paper between my fingers, what wary travelers had held this book in their hands and fumbled through the phrases as I had that day. I imagined them filled with hope that each line of expression would unlock another door in my journey through this land. Where did this book, stuffed into a back pocket, take them and who will possess it after me? What is it that brings us all here, to France, weaving an invisible thread between us?
I have for most of my life been a social person. Some have called me a social butterfly. Living in a place with no one to talk to was a release of an invisible social responsibility I had given myself. I could do it in Europe. At first, there were no parties to go to, no friends to call upon to meet for a cup of coffee. And I savored the quietness. But here lies my contradiction; I also need and crave alone time.
With socializing off my agenda, there was an opening of a fair amount of time for myself to focus on other things- to do yoga, learn tennis, ride my bike to explore, contemplate about what I was reading, writing, painting and photography. It was in a sense a freedom from obligation and made me feel invisible. When you are invisible you are free from the definition you have created for yourself, or has been created for you, and can become a truer form of what you are destined to be.
As the days turned into a week, people began to recognize my face around the city. I kept a pretty set routine. I would go to the patisserie first thing each day for my baguette. Then to the café for my cafe créme. I bought cheese at the market from the same man and my eggs from an adorable older couple. Then this marvelous thing started to happen. They each started trying to teach me words. Always with an expression of amusement they said it slowly to me, and I would repeat it back to them. My cheese monger taught me plus and minus, my vegetable grocer taught me the names of the herbs, the woman at the fromagerie taught me Bon Dimanche (Good Sunday), which is used around town starting Saturday afternoons. Connecting with others through their kindness and patience of sharing has been one of the most generous gifts I’ve received.
I had the freedom from myself and the beauty of kindness in others wanting to help me learn in this shared life in the walk that we take together.
Have you had language travel experiences that you recall years later? Tell me about them.