Saturday, August 26, 2006

reverse culture shock

This afternoon, Brett and I visited our friend Kevin's moped shop, where Brett picked up a new spark plug boot and we hung out with Kevin and our friend Tim.

While we were there, a guy walked past the back door. I heard him start to walk by, and just after my mind registered that he was there, I realized he was talking/yelling at a girl who was also back there. For the first four or five seconds after he started talking, I was really taken aback by the fact he was speaking in English instead of French.

It was completely strange, and made me realize that I guess I was more entrenched in French culture and language while I was there than I thought.

Honestly, though, it shocked me how easily I adaped to speaking in French, thinking in French, reading in French. Even the first night we were there, when I was completely jet lagged and exhausted, I was able to communicate on a purely automatic level in the language. I barely had to think about what I was saying...I didn't have to think it in English and then translate it into was just there, in my head, in French.

Weird. And extremely exhilirating.

I guess part of the ability to merge with the language sprung out of the knowledge that I was it, that I was the one everyone was relying on to figure things out. That responsibility motivated me to be much more bold than I would have been otherwise, I think. And that's a good thing: I know my French improved a great deal while I was there, largely because I gained a lot of confidence in speaking it and reading it.

Not to be a total braggart, but I had several people, many of whom were native French speakers, and some of whom were complete strangers, tell me I spoke French very well. That is a huge compliment coming from a French person. I even had one French woman think I WAS French.

All that simply rekindles my desire to continue to grow in my knowlege of the language. I know that while I do speak it well, there is so much I need to learn in the way of vocabulary, idomatic elements, and finesse. I'm hoping I can find people here in Seattle with whom I can talk and learn from. There's a cafe in the U-District that does language conversation nights, and Wednesdays are for French. I am going to go, maybe this week or the next. I really miss hearing the language since I've been back.

Anyway, while I was in Paris the last weekend before we came home, I wound up being by myself a lot, which I enjoyed. There's something about being alone in a big city that gives me a sense of...I"m not sure how to describe it. Maybe it's a sense of freedom and independence and, well, possibility, a feeling that the world is a really big place and I am just one small cog in it, and that anything could happen and I could go anywhere and do anything.

It was rainy that weekend, and cold, which was a welcome change for me since it had been extremely hot the whole time we were there. On Sunday, I got up and went to mass at Notre Dame with a few of the girls on the trip. (That was an amazing experience in itself.) The girls I had gone to church with went their own way after the service, and I went to do a few errands (relating to my duties as the French speaker on the trip). After that, I had the rest of the day by myself, since I had no way of getting in touch with any of the students.

I had wanted to do some last-minute shopping, so I left our hotel on the Ile St. Louis and walked across the Seine to catch the Metro Ligne 1 up to the Champs Elysees. I was standing in the train, near the door, as the train stopped at one of the stations; I don't remember which one -- maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the loudspeaker sounded the tone that indicates the doors are closing, I recall looking out the door at the station, seeing the artwork on the walls, the advertisements, the people -- the entire scenario -- and feeling completely a part of the culture, and feeling like I could live there forever.

I wish I could describe it better. It was such a surreal and wonderful moment and something I'll remember my entire life.


Isabel said...

I love it when the lights sparkle. It is quite magical.

nicole said...

Moi aussi, j'ai senti comme ca quand j'habitais en France. Ca me manque beaucoup l'atmosphere de la metro, et aussi la langue. Je parlerais avec toi de temps en temps, si tu veux. Je te connais parce que tout les deux, nous sommes des amies de Sarah Heng-Hartse.