Paris is beautiful, detailed, and ours for a whole month. That doesn't mean it isn't terrifying right now. Even the simplest interactions prove frightening with my self-conscious stuttering only making it worse. You can forget about the interactions that already take a lot of energy at home where I know the rhythm of things.
But you know? We knew these first days would be difficult -- perhaps even miserable. And that's what we signed up for. We wanted to go to a foreign place with an unfamiliar language and dive in feet first...to partake in a long and glorious tradition of finding oneself lost among people and therefore finding your art.
So. How we're coping. We've chosen to do one thing a day that scares us. Once that one thing is over, we don't have to do anything else if we don't want to.
Yesterday it was grocery shopping. It ended with me in tears in our apartment, paralyzed and ashamed of my inability to pull the few French words I know from the air while the checkout woman spoke paragraphs I couldn't even begin to decipher. "Je suis désolé, je ne parle qu'un peu de français." Today our one thing consisted of going into a bakery and actually ordering something. "Un baguette S'il vous plaît...et un allongé." A triumph, certainly, as we received what we asked for -- never mind the snickers we heard from behind the counter once we sat down.
You might be thinking that this is exactly why you don't travel, why you can't/shouldn't go on a trip like this because of your high anxiety or fear of change. But here's the thing.
We sat in that bakery where they laughed at us and listened. We listened to the rhythm of speech -- the lilt and turn of it -- the simplistic "yes and no"s as well as the detailed instructions from pushy people. True, I had another bought of fear once we got back to our little apartment. I grappled with worry. Would I have to fear every interaction for the next month? Roommate took my shoulders and we talked about the conviction that we heard in the voices of those native speakers. Declare your presence! It is not something either of us do well. But we're going to try. Speak what you know with conviction and perhaps they will take the time to listen when you run into a wall.
Tears still on my cheeks, we decided to take a walk. Just a walk. No talking to anyone. No plans. Just walking.
And of course, it's Paris. So a walk is never just a walk.
The further we walked, the more air I got in my lungs, the more beauty we soaked in without having it laced with worry, the more I felt myself sinking into who I am separate from what others demand of me. My skin started to fit again.
And you know what? We went into a little shop and got ourselves lunch. My first positive (most likely because it was practically non-verbal) interaction that involved French words! It's the tiny things. Each time, next time will be easier. I just have to get through all these "first times."
After our wander we sat in the quiet dim of our tiny place for a little while, soaking in the dampened sounds from outside.
And then I went to the grocery store. Alone. And I didn't even cry once.
Imagine what I could do tomorrow!
Do you have any advice for the culture shocked or language timid? I'd love to hear it and I'm sure others would too. Comment below or join the conversation on facebook.