Before Paris, we had the most lovely whirlwind of a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. We had gorgeous weather and a marvelous time together, just the five of us. I long to tell you all about it – oh, how I do – but, for now, let’s just have a little peek into the wide, weird world of an English-speaking expat.
When you live in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you get quite used to living in a bubble. You may think the description cliché, but it’s spot on.
Inside the bubble, things are quiet. Others may chat, giggle, debate, argue, or whisper around you. But the funny thing is… you don’t really hear any of it.
There’s no picking up a snippet from the teenagers here or a stray comment from the elderly couple there. You have absolutely no idea if the person next to you is gossiping about her best friend or discussing the finer points of Nietzsche.
When you open up your mouth to speak in your native language (because, of course, that’s what tumbles out first), those outside the bubble either stare or ignore you. It’s impossible to tell whether you’re understood or not because interaction simply does.not.happen.
In some ways, you’re… invisible.
In other ways, you’re on display for all the world (okay, the train) to see. Eating out, grocery shopping, waiting for the bus.. these are all relatively quiet affairs. It’s a silent phenomenon, one that sneaks up on you and becomes firmly ingrained while you remain oblivious, until…
One day, you find yourself in another place, a land where everyone hears, understands, and -gasp- speaks to you. This isn’t a forced exchange full of necessities and awkward pronunciation. No, here the conversation is effortless.
The bubble bursts. And suddenly, everything just got a whole.lot.LOUDER.
You try to finish your lunch, but the girl in the booth next to you just won’t shut up about her problems with the landlady.
The college kids sitting behind you on the bus are bragging about how many countries they’ve visited (three), how cultured they now are, and how that one time they… was just SO funny!
A man stops on the street mid-stride to suggest you try the coffee shop (his favorite) around the corner because you’re discussing where you should go to warm up on this chilly morning.
You ask the bus driver to help you figure out which stop is closest to your holiday apartment, and he agrees, smiles (!), and gives a shout when you’re nearly there.
It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it, but going to a foreign country and hearing English spoken is really very strange.
We’ve come to expect this hokey-smokes-we-can-understand-everyone-and-CRAP-they-understand-us phenomenon when we go back to the US. We become a bit disconcerted on the plane when flight attendants greet our children and make conversation. (Can you imagine someone talking to your child on the street and completely excluding you because they can tell you don’t understand? For us, this is our normal.) This disorientation grows until we finally recoil in utter shock when the cashier at the sparkly, big-box grocery store chats us up.
“How y’all doin’ today?”
This is reverse culture shock, and we live it every time we go to America.
But it was a new thing for us to experience a foreign country without a foreign language. It was… fantastic. Comforting. Therapeutic. Welcome…
Since we know it will be our last year to live in our current city, we often try to imagine ourselves as residents in the places we visit. Could we live here? Would we want to?
And while Scotland would take a lot of getting used to (I’ve never stared at traffic, drivers, and cars so much in my life – how do they drive on the left?), at least we would be insiders in a way.
Language. We miss so much being outside the deutschsprachig circle here in Germany. We cannot fight or fend for ourselves in many situations. ‘Tis true that I have only myself, my lack of time, commitment, and determination to blame. It is our/my struggle, and often brings me/us shame.
So, in between language blunders and fragmented exchanges, we wonder. How important is it? Should we make every effort to become fluent? Is it time to pop the bubble and live out loud?
My answer… is yes.
And so with this long-winded attempt to explain the freakish feelings we experienced in Scotland, I have a small announcement to make.
I’m taking a break.
It’s not you.. it’s me.
I love this blog for many reasons. It’s been my creative outlet for nearly four years. It’s pushed me to explore some really random corners of the world as well as to find the marvels and miracles amid the many mishaps of (my) expat life.
But, most of all, I have loved meeting all of you. I have made real life friends because of this blog, and truth be told, I don’t intend to stop. While I need to set aside the time I normally spend here at Thrifty Travel Mama to study German, I don’t plan on disappearing completely. I may post sporadic updates and quick recaps of our trips. But, I won’t be able to create regularly scheduled content for at least a few months.
I still plan to answer comments (though you may have better luck with email), and I will still be reading your posts and cheering for your adventures. I hope, when I’m finally able again, that you’ll be back to champion mine as well.
Wish me luck – it’s going to be DEAFENING out there.