Day 0 involved lots of travel on very little sleep. It also involved lots of travel through Germany first, which totally screwed us up, because Tom has lived in Germany and I have spent time in Germany. Long story short: we are both much more familiar with German language and culture. So by the time we were done with our 4.5 hour train trip (after a 10 hour flight, on which Tom got 2 hours of sleep and I got 5 hours of sleep*, after we had both got 2 hours of sleep on Wednesday night), we were both thoroughly in German Mode. I had to keep checking our phrase book to remember how to say “s’il vous plait” and “merci” (please and thank you), even though I’ve known and used both those phrases since I was eight**, because my overtired brain was coming up with “bitte”/”dankeschön” (and also 감사합니다, since my brain flails about for any language it knows when I’m in a foreign country).
But. Some major grace settled on me as we were on the last little train from Germany to France. Normally, when I’m out of the country, I want to go as native as possible. Don’t ever let anyone notice I’m American. And while yes, I think it’s absolutely essential to accept/partially assimilate to your host culture, I tend to take the “don’t be an American dick” to the extreme of “don’t exist because you’re inconveniencing people by being foreign.” So, sitting on the tiny train, watching a little girl and her mother wave to family friends while we waited for the train to go, I had a thought: “I don’t hate people who are speaking something other than English when I’m on a bus or train in the States. If I think about them at all, I generally feel warm because I know it’s hard to be somewhere foreign. I bet a: no one is noticing me now and b: if they are, they don’t care what language I’m speaking, and c: if they do, it’s not because of me, because no European cultural more I know of says that I can’t quietly converse with my husband in our native language.”
I know, it sounds dumb and probably kind of snobby, but guys, it was such a relief! And when we got to the train station and had to take a taxi, it allowed me to think, “If I do not mortally offend this man, this encounter is a success. And if I do, he’s a taxi driver; I won’t see him again; I have a chance to start over with the next person I meet.” So it was a success! I said “Bonjour, Monsieur.” I forgot to say “S’il vous plait.” Tom pointed at the address. We drove there. Driver said “Merci.” I said “Merci. Au revoir.” He went on about his day and by now has forgotten we existed. French Encounter #1: SUCCESS
We figured out our housing situation. Our landlord gladly mixed English with his French explanations. I remembered all four of my French phrases. We got an apartment. He said to come by if we needed anything. French Encounter #2: SUCCESS
At this point we were so tired that we just laid the sheets on top of the mattress and crawled into a twin bed and slept for three hours. Then, having taken the edge off the sleep debt a tiny bit, we found the nearest supermarket. We bought food that didn’t require utensils or preparation, as the school was closed for the weekend so we couldn’t get dishes until Monday. I talked too quietly to Tom, because I am hyperaware of how damn LOUD Americans are in public. We managed to get food for three days, pay the cashier, and get home in one piece. French Encounter #3: SUCCESS
The ham and gouda sandwiches we put together were the best I’ve ever eaten. Seasoned with lots of hunger.
We slept. A lot. And woke up and ate a bit and slept some more.
Tom went and hovered creepily outside the GTL building to use the wireless (which is the same GTWireless that Tech used to use) to find a church. He got to church just in time for communion. I slept. I got up and practiced some French and slept some more. At 8 PM I wanted to go use the wireless, but we stopped by the (up ’til then closed and dark) room of the residential internet admins and got our internet set up. Sweet, sweet internet. (Oh, also: French Encounters #4,5,6: SUCCESS!) I lapped it up and stayed up until 4 AM. I also immediately went over my upload cap, as I forgot to turn off my initial CrashPlan upload, but oh well. Glorious internet!
Which brings us to today. Tom had his teaching orientation today, so he got up quite early. I woke up at 11 AM, which felt good–ideally I’d like to eventually work towards getting up at 9 AM but I regularly wake up between 10 and 11 AM in the States, so not bad), fiddled around on the internet, found out that Tom’s class is Monday/Wednesday at 8 AM, so we have effectively a FIVE DAY WEEKEND EVERY WEEK. IN FRANCE. (Yes, I know Tom has lesson plans and grading. STILL AWESOME.)
I wandered around the lake next to our residence, picked up some necessities (plug adapters and tourism brochures) from campus, and then went to the “Welcome Party” hosted by the university. Tom was nervous and introverted, as he didn’t want to accidentally strike up a friendship with a student he would be teaching. (I had no such qualms.) At any rate, we eventually found the small group of grad students–French students getting a dual degree and GT students studying abroad–who are on the same footing as Tom, and suddenly we had a built-in social group. Of the sort of people who Know Things about alcohol, make up terrible nicknames for the residence buildings (Tom and I live in the D-Bag building), and cook together regularly. OUR PEOPLE!
And now I’m here. Eating clementine slices with off-brand Nutella as a midnight snack (Auchan’s “pâte à tartiner aux noisettes et au lait écrémé,” in case you were wondering–that’s the wonderfully brand-conscious “spread with hazelnuts and skim milk”), telling you that I got SUN today, and am cautiously hopeful that I won’t FAIL at everything here. I keep reading and re-reading Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s Wish for this year:
It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.
So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.
And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.
So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.
So I keep faking a smile, and it’s getting real-er by the second.
*and I watched two-thirds of Pitch Perfect before the stupid plane decided to land and not let me watch it any more. 😦 T. got to watch all of The Dark Knight Rises and ParaNorman, though.
**Parents both took French in high school and college. My mom randomly throws tiny amounts of it out in conversation (not in an obnoxious way), I assume out of habit.