Living in a place where the language used is not your own mother tongue, you start to get some sense of appreciation for what it is like to not be able to communicate as efficiently or effectively as you would like.
I was sitting somewhere and someone was struggling to make clear what they wanted to say. I found that I was – at some subconscious level – passing some kind of judgment on their ability/knowledge on what was being discussed. I very quickly realized that they must feel the same way I do when trying to make myself understood in French. It is a very frustrating feeling to have thoughts that you have formed, that you want to communicate to others – but there is awkward transformation of my ideas into the too-limited number of words that I have mastery of at my disposal. It feels like trying to poor clear water through an unreasonably messy filter that allows only partial thoughts through, often with sludgy grammar, and unwanted extra bits – while all too often the clarity of what I had started with seems partially or completely lost.
The last time we moved to Grenoble it was August 1999. We had been been married just over three years, no kids. We could easily pack up most of what we owned, put in in storage in our parents basement, take the rest in a few suitcases, stop renting the apartment we were in, and go. We found a cheap apartment in the city where I could walk to school. We were planning on being here about 12 months or so.
This time we have 3 kids going in to school – one starting school for the first time here. We had a house and cars to get rid of. We had to sell a lot of stuff, just to get down to having a storage shed left. We had to rent out our house. We had to base where we lived more on where the kids would go to school than anything. We plan on being here for 4 years or so.
The other HUGE change is the way technology affects your ability to stay connected over long distances.
Last time we had a phone at our apartment and expensive long distance calls to Canada. Very expensive. We probably called home a few times a year. We had dial-up internet at home. In order to get music we would buy a few cd’s when ever we were back in Canada and physically bring them here. In order to get shows from North America we became part of a rather large and organized international television smuggling ring. Friends of ours had some contacts back in California who would tape shows onto VHS cassettes, then they would either be mailed over – or more often, saved up and brought over en-masse when someone was back in the US. Then there was a systematic passing of the tapes around a small and organized ex-pat community. Occasionally one of the tapes would go missing and and we would be left in the lurch – not knowing what happened on the season finale of Alias!
Email was our primary form of communication with people back in Canada. In order to show what we were up to – we could attach a few pictures that we took on our 1 MegaPixel digital camera.
This time we have a package at our house that gives us (for €39 a month) broadband internet, tons of digital tv stations and unlimited phone calls to all over France and North America. We can buy our music the exact same way we did back home – online. We can watch streaming TV, post essentially unlimited photos, videos and whatever else on this blog and other places. We can use skype to have free video calls anywhere in the world. I can use Google Translate to make a (usually) incredibly accurate instant and free translation of any document, webpage, or text of any kind. Facebook & Twitter allow us to keep up with friends dispersed all over the globe.
Yes, we had these things back in Canada – but somehow the power of them to give some sense of being less disconnected did not really occur to me until we were living here.
I’m not sure what the point is.
I guess: “living in the future is pretty cool”
Well, that and “No, it does not make it feel like we’re still back in Canada – which is at the same time unfortunate and fantastic”
- one time zone
- compact area so it is more efficient to build infrastructure (highways, rail lines, power plants)
- you can get from one side of the country to the other without dedicating a week to the travel
- national weather forecasts are actually relevant to you
I have heard ex-pats here often wishing longfully for whereever they hail from – as “I can just get so much more done back home.”
Is getting a lot done really the point? In some ways I think the French have things much more sorted out when it comes to prioritizing the use of the only thing we have in this life that we can never actually get back once it has been spent – our time.
Sure – two hours for lunch can seem quite outrageous – especially when I need to get something and all the stores are closed so the shopkeeper can return home for a proper meal.
Sure having the country essentially shut down for the entire month of August can be annoying -especially if you move here mid-august -and you have a huge list of things that you need to accomplish in order to properly feel settled.