Awkward silence vs. awkward conversation

7:49 AM

When you are an expat in a country where you either do not speak the language or do not speak it well you are going to come across some situations that are awkward that otherwise would never be.


Take the hair dresser. Even if you aren't a big small-talker you can rarely get away with being at the hairdresser for three hours getting a cut and dye without talking about something, no? I am not one who needs to talk but too much silence with the man or woman cutting my hair feels like I am being rude. Except how do you talk when you can't follow the gossip of the day? Add to it that you don't even know who the local celebrities are (or perhaps, like me, you have been listening to a princess CD far too long and have no idea what is hip even back home....) ad you have one awkward situation. The worst is when you get a couple of sentences out well enough in the language only to find out that you HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SHE SAID BACK!

Which leads me to another awkward situation. How about when you do speak the language well enough to ask questions and follow a conversation until said conversation takes a drastic turn. This happened to me just a few days ago at the foot doctor. We were doing just fine until she got a phone call; an update on her friend who was in a car accident. I understood most of the description of the accident and understood that she was in critical condition until that morning, but I am pretty sure that my, "Oh, that is terrible. I am so sorry." was enough. Especially because then the doctor went on to say something else about the gravity of motorcycles and cars to which I could only answer, "Hmmm-mmm" because I didn't really understand what she had said. She gave me a look like she was expecting something more, but I couldn't give it to her. So I allowed a minute to go by in silence. Then another. Then I asked about shoes for my kids because I figured we might as well change the subject. I realized with the look that passed through her face the first second I said something about my kids and shoes that she was surprised I had changed the subject, but thankfully she must have understood the situation because she followed the change right away and continued to be just as nice!

Of course the situation above was a bit embarrassing but I was proud of my French speaking for that day. But take the time I went into the travel agency to simply pick up our Disneyland package and had to repeat myself four times before the receptionist understood what I wanted. And it wasn't just something little, it was the entire purpose for which I gone there that she didn't understand. After her first "Quoi?" I got flustered. But after her second "quoi" I was not only more flustered, I was also annoyed. The third time she said it she even giggled at the absurdity of the whole situation because I guess maybe she realized that it was something so simply as picking up our "dossier" (one word I managed well enough) but for some reason she could not comprehend what I wanted. Finally she asked if I wanted to buy it or pick it up. I repeated the words "pick up" (which I already used four times!) and this time I must have gotten the pronunciation correct because she laughed again (hopefully at herself...) and sent me to sit and wait for an agent. Errrrr. Funnily enough he understood me the first time.

Then there are all those times that someone ends a conversation with a joke or someone stops to compliment you on your kids and you understand by everyone's demeanor that what was said was funny and lighthearted and should be agreed and laughed along with but you HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY SAID so you give a laugh and hope that no real verbal answer is needed before you can duck away.

Oh, the joys of being an expat....

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