Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mardi Malade

Living’s mostly wasting time
And I waste my share of mine
But it never feels too good
So let’s not take too long
You’re as soft as glass and I’m a gentle man
We got the sky to talk about
And the world to lie upon
--Townes Van Zandt

A late update today. I've been rather ill most of the day and have not felt like writing much. I did manage to do quite a bit of reading, watching a lot of old Simpsons episodes, and do a lot of napping. It's a hard life, I know.

I've always been a bit of a voyeur. Not in the dirty, peeping kind of way. I find myself looking into lighted windows, watching people pass me by, and studying others while in a restraunt or store. I find the behavior of others utterly fastenating. I still remember standing in line at Wet n Wild or Universal Studios in Orlando, FL when I was 14 or 15 and being amazed at all the people. There were gobs, and gobs of people everywhere. We would stand in line and I remember thinking, as I stared at the same people in front and behind of me, that this is the only moment in my life I would ever see these people. But they all obviously had their own lives. It was a profound moment for me to realize that the world is full of people and I will never know in the mildest sort of way. Since then, I guess, I've always liked to watch others when they don't think they are being watched. These days as I look out my window and catch glimpses of others in the apartment across the street I find myself thinking of language. The people over there are just like everyone else, more or less, but I realize that if I could hear what they were saying, if I was that fly on the wall, I would have no idea what they were talking about. Oh, I might catch a word or two, I might gather some gist through gestures and will, but mostly I would just sit confused.

If there is anything I have learned in France thus far it is the utter complexity of language. I speak, in English, every day without thinking about it. Words fly off the tongue and they are gone, meanings are grasped but the words dissappear. Yet everyday I hear people speaking in French and have no idea what they are saying. I know those strange words have meaning for others understand and respond, but its like some old mystical song to me. Like that scene in Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins plays the bit from the opera. It's like the words are a cryptic puzzle and I'm missing the key.

I suppose I am learning little pieces of the language at a very slow pace. It's amazing at how nervous I am when trying to speak it to others. Last night I had my french lesson in a Subway. After Ann bought her sandwich I went over to buy myself a drink. I was literally nervous over ordering a Coke. I didn't even have to ask for it politely, poiting towards the can on the shelf and saying "Coca" would suffice. But I had no buffer with me. I feared that the lady behind the counter would not be satisfied with my simple order and may ask for more information. Or that she may be friendly and ask about my family, where I was from, or any number of pleasantries. I don't want to appear as some rude American who refuses to say "I'm fine thanks, and you?" Relations between our countries are difficult enough without me adding to the trouble. What if she asks if I want a sandwich and a bag of chips and a cookie? My usual response to French I don't understand is to smile and nod politely, this could be confused as acceptance of an order I can't possibly afford. When I finally did order the Coke the two ladies whispered to each other, pointed upstairs to where Ann was and then one spoke in English, "you get free refills with the meal." Referring to the meal Ann had ordered. I explained I wanted a Coke for myself and somehow felt let down that I had not been challenged with the language.


Avalon's Knight Dreamer said...

The story is very funny. It is very interesting to read about other places. It is also refreshing to read a comment where you include your wife! So many men today are looking for ways "not" to. Happy New Year to you both.

midnitcafe said...

Welcome to my blog! Thanks for the comments. Actually, embarasingly, the Ann in this particular story is not my wife, but my french tutor. But you will find in other posts that I do talk about my wife. How could I not? She is my center, my heart, my best friend and all those other corny sentimental things. Althoug she's often just a side not in this blog, but that has more to do with my perspective in the blog than my relationship to her.

On a bit of an aside to this comment I have found that when talking to new people I almost always find a way to mention my wife within the first few moments. This is especially true if I'm talking to a woman. Like I'm making sure everyone else understands where our relationship stands. No funny stuff, I'm taken. That was a long way to say welcome to my blog, but there you have it.

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