30 May 2006

Home is where you hang your chapeau

Hi everyone! I'm back in Paris again for a few days before heading off to Normandy with the 'rentals. It's going to take me a few days to get reorganized, so I'll report on the details of our trip to Berlin and Prague throughout the coming week or so. Overall, we had a great trip and I have many stories to share.

One of the more unexpected outcomes of this trip is that I have a renewed desire to learn more French, as well as to perhaps start on another language. I just didn't realize how much French I actually knew until I set foot on German soil and suddenly couldn't communicate anymore. It was initially a very frustrating experience because I'm used to "simply" switching into French when people don't speak English. Suddenly, that "instinct" didn't work, and I had to rely on the other person's ability to speak English. (I didn't find any French speakers.) Once again, I was struck dumb and illiterate because of the language barrier.

By the end of our stay in Berlin, however, I had picked up a few words and phrases and was eager to learn more. Perhaps the best part of my time in France is that I have absolutely no fear in going up to a complete stranger and making an attempt to communicate in his or her language. (My dad was stunned when I asked for the bill at a restaurant in Prague, and the waiter understood me completely. Pretty cool!) If I had to live in Germany for a while, I would definitely start taking German lessons so that I could start to make use of that language in more complete terms. Who knew language could actually be fun??

Perhaps the most interesting personal moment for me was returning to Paris yesterday. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I generally get a bit of a "warm and fuzzy" feeling when I'm flying back home. For me, there is just something comforting in the transition from tourist to local. So, as we were landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, I felt a profound sense of homecoming. And, as soon as I stepped off the plane, I could communicate again -- I could talk to the customs officials, I could read the signage, and I could understand most of the PA announcements. It was an absolutely amazing feeling! I never thought about the possibility that I would actually view Paris as "home," but there I was, feeling a sense of belonging and community to a city that sits an ocean apart from where I grew up.

And, as I mentioned before, I have a renewed desire to learn more French as a result of this experience. Now that I know that I have truly made progress and that it has paid off tremendously, I hunger for greater fluency. French has - at least temporarily - ceased to be the albatross that I carry on my shoulders. If you'll indulge me to carry the bird metaphor one step further, I now view other languages as the wings I need to fly through other cultures and civilizations. Why stop at French? There are SO many languages that I could learn. Sure, it's really hard for an adult to learn a new language, but that knowledge opens so many new doors for you in the long run. I used to think that Americans were lucky because they didn't have to learn more than one language. Now, I think we are an impoverished culture because of it, sheltered from the way the rest of the world operates.

OK, that should be enough personal epiphanies for one day.


At 5/6/06 12:45, Anonymous Rachel said...

I lOVE what you have to say, Amy, and I agree with you whole-heartedly!!
You are so right: it is exciting to be able to communicate to complete "strangers" in a fashion other than our native language. On one hand, it is a great privilege, I believe, to speak English as our native language. On the other hand, I am as passionate as you are about being able to communicate more and more with others (non English-speaking). As we become more fluent in French, we have this much more access to culture and beauty and customs and to other people around the world! How cool!


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