Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Better

Look how French I'm trying to be

Things are getting better. Everyone says that when you move to a foreign country, particularly for an oddly short but long-feeling period of time like a college semester, it takes awhile to adjust. I've been here for 10 days and it seems as if I've been away from my friends, family and fellow English speakers for months. I have the suspicion it's because all the little things you take for granted at home here are much more difficult, if only because you're in a foreign place and don't know how to navigate every day life. For example: In New York, I wake up, make coffee, almost crumble to my knees while taking a shower because I frequently edge to the brink of sleep, and then pour my coffee and drink it while I get ready, then walk 15 minutes to school.

Here I couldn't find any bags of American coffee, so I accidentally bought espresso. I don't have an espresso machine. I've been essentially making "coffee" by using a 1 scoop of espresso to 5 cups water ratio, and it tastes like tar. Someone told me they have a version of Splenda here but I forget what it's called so I put sugar in my coffee, so it tastes like sweet tar. In the shower I have to be awake because it's handheld and must use effort to actually wash myself, as opposed to genuinely zoning out beneath a sheaf of steaming water. My commute is 45 minutes, so I leave an hour before school starts, and have to take two (overly crowded) Metros.

It's not bad, it's just different; I've always been married to my routine, which I think is one of the reasons it's good that I came here. I needed to break out of my comfort zone in a way that I hadn't really done since I moved to New York. I have to make little adjustments to finally bring myself into stride with the way my daily life functions here.

Of course, aside from the minutiae, there are the significant changes: mainly, the language. I've already started to think and dream in French, but understanding, writing, and reading a foreign language are a lot different than speaking one. As a writer, and a person who generally enjoys deep human connection, do you know how difficult it is to be unable to express yourself in a sophisticated manner? I imagine it's how children feel, or, to a lesser extent, those with "locked in" syndrome: you have so many things to say that you feel are important, that could contribute to the conversation or the subject at hand in a meaningful way, but you are literally left sputtering because you don't know how to form the words. I'm essentially learning what it's like to be an immigrant here for four months, only I'm an American in Europe and so am treated much better than other immigrants who come to the US. You have to learn new customs: kissing in Paris, for example, is considered a friendly and polite gesture, whereas hugging is considered too intimate to do in public or with someone you're not close with-- in the states it's essentially the opposite. You have to learn new foods: "Avez-vous un sandwich sans viande?" -- do you have a sandwich without meat? My boulangere is getting tired of hearing that, I'm sure. You have to learn new directions: I take the 7 to Place D'Italie, and then the 6 to Passy. But most of all, you have to learn patience. Firstly, because there is a total lack of urgency here. People amble everywhere, even off the Metros in the morning. For someone born in the New York state of mind, it is absolutely infuriating, especially if (when) I'm running late. But I think ultimately it will help to teach me to relax, which is something I'm not very good at.

And for those of us chained to and spoiled by our computers (and/or New York locale), there isn't a place to go online for random things you need: There is no HopStop or or OhmyRockness. So you have to be patient: you have to read the subway map yourself and pick food up on your way home from school and physically go to the newsstand and buy a Pariscope when it comes out each Wednesday. It has made me realized (even more) how utterly indulgent New York has made me and and other American youth.

But patience transcends simply abetting immediacy: you have to learn to be patient mostly with yourself, which is difficult, especially if you're say, a neurotic perfectionist. It gets really fucking frustrating when a cute guy strikes up a conversation with you and all you can do is go all doe-eyed and shrug and mutter, "je ne sais pas." It gets really fucking frustrating when you're standing alone in the grocery store and can't find a single item in the frozen food aisle (the only aisle where you can afford anything!) that doesn't have meat in it, mostly because you can't understand what the products say. And it gets really fucking frustrating when someone waves his dick in your face on the subway and you don't know how to say "this guy is a perv please make him stop" so you just gasp, jump up, run to a different section of the car and start uncontrollably crying. But you just have to remember that, with time, not only will you have the verb conjugations memorized, but they'll roll easily off your tongue. You'll meet people and learn slang so you don't talk like a professor constantly. It's just a lot of waiting and restraint, two things which I am also not good at.

In short, it's lonely, but with patience, it won't be that way for long. My roommate Rachel and I got out of our lease with this shitty apartment and are moving into a beautiful (but tiny) loft with a little balcony overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens on October 1st. Our landlords are an adorable French couple - the woman was already bugging my roommate and I to get boyfriends, and the man is a philosophy professor at the Sorbonne. It's near Montparnasse, which is a lot like the Broadway of Paris, with cute shops and restaurants. It'll just feel good to be in a safer and more centralized area. We put the deposit down today so I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I also bought tickets to go to Amsterdam Nov. 20-23 for the Cannabis Cup, which should be... amazing.

Frankly, I'm surprised I haven't had a mental breakdown yet, what with all the change and constant movement and the fact that I haven't smoked pot in 10 days. But sometimes we surprise ourselves.



Marshall said...

Come back baby, rock n' roll never forgets.

Emily said...

I've been a reader of your blog for a bit, but have never commented, and just wanted to say AMEN to what you've written! I am also abroad in France this semester (in Rennes) and can totally, totally, totally empathize. I have barely been here two weeks and it feels like months. Add the frustration of language barriers (especially amongst certain international students who speak English poorly and French barely passably) and it's all quite an adventure.

bon courage, though. all of us are gonna figure it out, sisters are doing it for themselves, after all.