Traveling abroad

Looking out at the French countryside from a mountainous village.

A view of the French countryside from a mountainous village.

Traveling abroad will make you brave in ways you never thought you’d be. I won’t eat salad, strawberries, or shrimp, but today I tried foie gras, fig bread, and scallops. I’ve been known to wake people up in the middle of the night to have them come kill spiders for me, but I’ve personally dispatched a few dozen since being here (there was a hatching in my bathroom). I don’t like even hugging people I’m not close to, but I didn’t flinch through eight rounds of cheek kissing (faire la bise), even though two of the people I was meeting were boys in their late teens. (It was a large family; apparently in France you get big financial incentives for having three or more children.)

In other ways, traveling abroad will make you a coward. Everything makes me nervous. I practice the most basic phrases in my head three or four times before attempting to say them, and I still sometimes chicken out and ask if they speak English. Never before have I realized how much English makes me comfortable, how much I depend on being able to speak and understand easily.

I haven’t done any writing yet since arriving. Truth be told, I haven’t written regularly in a while. Every time I try, I reread it and hate it. I think, if it bores me, it will certainly bore others. I’m hoping a change of scenery will help with what I can only describe as a mix of writers block and low writing self-esteem. I saw Carcassonne yesterday, and the Mediterranean, and there were a few moments, while my feet were in the water, or while I was walking the walls of the city, when I thought I might have something to say, something worthwhile. I haven’t tried writing it yet, though. There’s a part of me that wonders why I should stay inside writing when there’s a whole country out there to explore.

So far, these emotions have been battling it out. I’m not sure yet which will win, who I’ll be: a confident explorer who laughs off her language (and culture) mistakes, or a scared introvert who stays home writing and eating pizza. Time will tell. I’ve got twenty-four days left.


  • Do you think that being immersed in French and writing in English has something to do with not wanting to write?

    I find it hard to write in Swedish when I’m in the States and hard to write in English when I’m in Sweden. It takes a lot more concentration to focus my thoughts and the sentences come out looking like crap. It’s like my brain is slow to switch to a new vocabulary.

    Playing music in the background in the language I want to write in helps. Reading for 20 – 30 minutes, something written in the language in which I want to write, also helps.

  • Kathryn says:

    Well, I’d hazard a guess that I don’t know enough of French for that to be a problem yet. Also, I’m staying with some American hosts. But I think that’s interesting, and I think all of the things you suggest help get you thinking in the other language. I wonder if I could do the reverse of that before I go out in public, if doing so would help me make fewer language blunders (I’m building quite the list!).

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