Monday, December 16, 2013

christmastime in excideuil

surprise! a quick little christmas post, just in time for the holidays. :) the festive spirit has really kicked in here in excideuil. there are lights everywhere – on lamp posts, strung across the streets, draped in trees, adorning the church. the village even set up three huge pines, strategically placed throughout the town, and adorned several of the drainpipes on my street with pine branches. my favourite decoration, though, are the cheerful paintings that many of the local business owners commissioned to brighten up their windows. my upstairs neighbor, christelle, is a wonderfully gifted artist, and she created personalized designs for each business – the shoe repair shop has a boot, the printer has a book, the appliance shop has santa delivering an electric heater… it’s adorable. i also was lucky enough to be included in the decorating committee for the cafĂ© downstairs. we spent all afternoon a few weekends ago setting up the tree, draping lights and streamers around the room, and just generally adding christmas cheer to the already bright and lively coffee shop. it made me feel so much more at home to get to do something so traditionally comforting. check out my cute christmas village here!

now that i’ve gotten to enjoy the christmas-y atmosphere of the village for a few weeks, it’s high time for another break, if i do say so myself. amazingly, this semester is drawing to a close already.. and poor me, i’ve only had like 3 weeks of vacation so far! happily, i leave tomorrow for my christmas break. i won’t spoil the surprise, since i will surely blog about my experiences once i’m back.. but i’ll be in cambridge, england for the first week and hopping around ireland for the second week! as ever, getting there is half the fun – the rest of this week will be filled with reunions, as i stop off in a new place each day to catch up with old friends, before finally arriving in england on friday! at first, it seemed silly to take 4 days to get somewhere when i could go much more directly and be there in about 4 hours.. but i’m excited to be seeing everyone along the way!

as much as i enjoy my little idyllic countryside home, i can’t wait to spend time in places that have traffic lights and shops open past 5 pm!! …sarcasm aside, i am so looking forward to seeing some dear friends and celebrating the holiday season together. it’ll be my first one away from home, and i am so blessed to have such a great group to share it with. hopefully i’ll get to post from the road – if not, i’d like to wish everyone a merry christmas and a very prosperous and adventure-filled 2014!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

lost in translation

i just realized that i only feel the need to share something on this blog when i’m preparing for or have just returned from a trip… which is probably unfair of me, because this whole year is a trip, in many ways.

i’m finally feeling settled in here in excideuil - both a blessing and a curse. christmas break starts next week, which will bring my longest stretch of work (two and a half weeks straight with only my 3.5 day weekends to comfort me) to an end. with a job that’s only 12 hours a week, i’ve had loads of time… to go on walks, to watch tv, to skype, to think. and as someone who spends the vast majority of her time lost deep in her own mind, my thoughts have strayed all over the map (literally and figuratively). i find myself planning trips often; several i intend on carrying out, and many others that i’ll probably never take, just out of curiosity to see if it’s a feasible plan. i imagine where i’ll move next, and then the next place after that, and the next… the “what-if” part of me has had a serious work-out here the last few weeks.

of course, i think about language a lot. what it means to communicate, how language forms such an integral part of our identity. it’s incredible to realize how much of yourself is ingrained in the way you express your thoughts and feelings. in some sense, that’s all you are, since people can’t read minds (maybe?). you have to get your point across somehow. this revelation shouldn’t come as a surprise, but doing it in a second language is H-A-R-D. when you’re first learning to speak as a child, you pick up mannerisms and subtleties that are almost impossible to imitate from an outsider’s perspective. i’ve been lucky in that i’ve made friends with several wonderful people who have really helped me make my french into something comfortable and colloquial – i am much more at ease speaking french than i ever have been before. that said… i still feel like a grown-up baby sometimes. there are moments when i get so frustrated because i feel like i just can’t talk. i have a firm hold on my grammar skills and vocabulary, that’s not the problem. now, the goal is not just to say the correct words – it’s to genuinely express myself. and often, i just feel like the “me” that i think i am is lost in translation. i’ll hear myself respond to a question, and i’ll think “did i just say that? do i really think that??” it’s seriously hard to be yourself in another language – you lose a lot of the humour and idiomatic expression that you never knew you relied upon to communicate. the tone of a joke, the way sarcasm comes across, the subtle wordplay of linguistic ambiguity… it’s just not the same in a second language. if i stayed here for years and years, i’m sure i would be able to get to that point… but i’ve been learning lately that it takes much, much longer than i originally thought. and as much as i honestly do love speaking french nearly every day, being here has made me appreciate english again, which is nice.

the most challenging part of this process is feeling like people here don’t know the real me… as an introvert, it’s essential that i feel known by a core group of people or i start to feel completely isolated from humanity. and i have certainly felt lonely since arriving… i can only have so many surface-level conversations before i start itching for a topic that’s a little more substantial. after all, how can you get to know someone – really know them – without asking serious questions? i feel like i haven’t had a serious, face-to-face conversation in ages. i suppose that’s why i feel like people don’t know me here. but maybe they do. even if i can’t say exactly the words i mean with exactly the right connotations, i hope that my spirit is visible to those around me – at the end of the day, i think that being genuine transcends language. as clichĂ© as it might be, a smile is the same in every language!

aaaaanyway, this post was mostly self-indulgent. i know that i’m not alone, and i am grateful for the support i receive from family and friends on essentially a daily basis. but it’s definitely been on my mind! stay tuned for a christmas-in-excideuil post, coming soon. :)