Bored with life and seeking adventure? Learn a language, visit its country of origin, and take part in daily life là-bas. You will never again take communication for granted, not when buying fruit, talking with the postman, and asking a stranger for directions all become heart-thudding affairs.

Navigating life in French, or in any second language, is tough. I told Florent yesterday as we drove home from a dinner with his parents, his sister, and her boyfriend, that I never knew how to blush (rougir) until I visited France.

Faire la bise confusion. Realizing I don’t know how to say elbow, or cabinet, or a hundred little words I didn’t know I didn’t know until there I am, desperate pantomimes and sound effects in la pharmacie.

I have had to learn to laugh–that’s been essential–because so many things are surprising, shocking, or just don’t translate…a bittersweet quality since my ignorance usually makes me the joke.

Acquiring fluency is thus a messy, humbling process; in some ways more character-shaping than anything else I’ve experienced. On good days I feel like I’m getting it: I buy groceries and have conversations pas de problème, get where I’m going effectively, sautée a market courgette while singing along to Stromae…and Florent affectionately calls me his presque Française.

On bad days (which are, happily, few) I feel like a confused, lost, frustrated American baby. Though, unlike a baby, age prohibits me from crying and screaming to communicate basic desires. Otherwise I might be tempted to consider it.

On those bad days, a little voice tells me–in English–to stay home, warm and safe. To construct a gaffe-free fortress of mystery novels and Bonne Maman madeleines. Which is tempting. But ultimately neither satisfying nor productive, not when it’s motivated by my little anxieties.

So I try to get up, get dressed, get out, and do tiny scary things all day long. Though slightly uncomfortable, it’s exhilarating and good for me, like what they say about taking ice cold showers. And there is nothing better than telling that lame, timid voice to tais-toi.


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