But I lived there for a year in 2014 and I was miserable. Here’s why: despite spending the previous year taking college courses in French and then a three-week intensive course at the University of Geneva, I couldn’t understand a thing anybody was saying. Lesson: just because you can read The Little Prince in French doesn’t mean you can parlez français.
I was bitterly–and I do mean bitterly–disappointed.
Because I couldn’t communicate, in no time I turned into an introvert—an insecure, fearful one. I asked myself, “Who am I?” Yes, you can spend your whole life pondering this existential question. In the mean time, someone has to buy groceries.
But here’s what happens when you can’t read the labels:
- You and your husband wash your hair with conditioner for an entire week resulting in a greasy look that is not flattering to either of you.
- You serve your guests what you think is veal sausage that you have just grilled. But it’s really some form of cooked pasta that is now hard and dry.
- You ruin a colored load of laundry because you think 60º is Fahrenheit and not Centigrade.
Military time, centimeters, centigrade, grams, kilograms: exquisite and insidious forms of torture. Scene in the Farmer’s Market:
Seller: Vous bxln tqupr cnxz?
Me: (assuming he’s asking how many little containers I want) Deux!
Seller: (slightly irritated and surprised) Vxbdfrzteaux?
Me: (panicking) Oui, oui!
I watch in horror as he bags two kilos (four pounds) of olives. I hand over the money and then immediately go buy a box of beautiful chocolates–and eat them–all.
So I was miserable for seven months and then one day I decided to be happy.
What?! Decide to be happy?
Seriously. Here’s what I learned—and as with many spiritual truths it’s counterintuitive—there will be no external change until there is an internal change.
I know, I know: our culture teaches us differently: “If only I had x, y and z, then I would be happy.” But we all know better than that. I also knew that I had to feel my feelings (frustration, anger, sadness, depression), give them a voice, (“I hate it here because I can’t communicate and I’m frustrated!”) and then move on (I will be happy anyway!)
Once I made that decision, everything changed. No, I never did learn to communicate in French. I just decided to explore what it was like to be an introvert, to be the quiet one, to be the observer. And when guests came by and I couldn’t understand anything, I just smiled and served them olives. Lots of olives.
But no chocolates. I saved those for myself.