When you don't live in your country...

11:57 PM

...you learn to stop being so shy. Sort of.

  I have this small phobia of being in a room full of people I don't know and not having much to talk about. I have never been super good at being in college parties when I didn't know very many people. Or better yet, when those I knew found it more interesting to talk to others. While I am not someone who minds being alone or not talking, there are moment during these occasion that you start to feel, well, odd. You start to fee like everyone is looking at you and wondering why they heck you don't talk. Are you mute? Or are you just not interesting? And then there is the big task of small conversation. Which I am and am not good at...depending on the day.

    Of course, being a mom changes that a bit. Small conversation can easily be directed at the children. And I have learned (slowly) the three things to always start the conversation out with (at least here in Toulouse, this doesn't necessarily apply anywhere.) "When did you get here?" "Where are you from?" "Why/how did you come to move here?"

    The last one usually then directs us to their job or their husband's job and from there we can usually have a pretty decent conversation. Like anywhere, there are people you meet that you hit it off with right away and those that you don't...(and let my point out that I am talking about English or Spanish speaking people here.....you will understand further on...)

    Anyway, I joined this organization that is right across the street from me (yay, living downtown!) that offers free French conversation classes and a group that meets once a month called the Dejeuner Jeunes Femmes (Young Woman's Lunch). The "young" part is basically to keep out the 70 and 80 year olds who go there to quilt and play bridge. It is an organization whose purpose is to bring people together, usually people who recently moved to Toulouse.

    So I show up with my little Firecracker and haltingly introduce myself (this is all French ladies, although some try to use their English with me when they hear my accent! Ouch!) and I thank the Lord above that I have Firecracker. You see, while I was sweating underneath my clothes and probably would have broken out in hives if I wasn't a praying person, I was equipped with my few sentences and was determined to *literally* sweat it out. For two hours. But have you ever been in a place where you ask your first few conversation ice breakers and then you can't find the words or proper grammar to ask what you would like to ask next? You haven't?

   Unless you have recovered from a stroke or lived in a foreign country this has probably never happened to you: you sit, looking with interest at the person who is talking with a smile plastered to your face. It looks like you are following the conversation, but in reality you only get about half of it. And for a split second you congratulate yourself on understanding half, but then realize that was a big mistake because now you missed the question that was just asked. And now it is your turn to answer said question. Thankfully Firecracker makes a small noise across the room and you quickly excuse yourself to be a good mom (even though you know you are not needed).

   Or: you are actually talking quite well with one person, but then the conversation gets harder. You have to now ask about her job, but you don't know the words in English. So you frantically search your mind for a different question when you suddenly realize that you are drawing a blank on French grammar. But you go for it and the puzzled look on the other lady's face tells you that you should have kept your mouth shut as she has NO. IDEA. what you just said. Great.

    Or: you find a group to just listen to. The conversation is interesting about looking for work in Toulouse and you are learning some new grammar. Things are good. When all of a sudden they feel the need to make you join the conversation. "Are you looking for work here?" they ask and you laugh at the absurdity with your French abilities, but your laugh really just makes you look like a spoiled, rich wife who doesn't "need" to work because this was a conversation. You quickly, in broken French, explain that you work in English writing for online magazines and doing translation work, but not in French. Not yet. The tension settles a bit. Whew.

   When you don't live in your own country and you don't know that country's language too well, well, things happen. And you push forward. Because otherwise you would end up a hermit!


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