Ever since the newspaper article came out. I’ve been having all these regrets about saying I don’t have any close friends. I’m not sure if I should post this – since it’s pretty soul searching – but, it’s like I said to the reporter – this blog is for me, and, for whatever reason, this is what I needed to write.
The fact of the matter is, a lot of the no friends stuff is either my own fault, or that of circumstances beyond my control.
In the beginning, I truly had no one, but around Christmas I met a wonderful woman who introduced me around. I met several people who were nice to me. I had co-workers of André’s invite us over, and of course there was the amazing people who helped us settle in (Olivier and Nadine). We did hang out with these people and had them over as well etc… but it never really turned into anything more. They had full lives already, our schedules didn’t mesh, or sometimes, our personalities just didn’t work together well enough for close friendship, a fact of life.
Throughout this stage I did not have a car and I was often dealing with one crisis with the kids or another. When, now and again, I would make it to a coffee or tea I ended up either totally confused because everyone was speaking in French or feeling paranoid that they didn’t like me for me, just felt sorry for me. More than half the time I wouldn’t be able to attend the meetings they had since I had kids to watch or no car to reach the meeting place – so every time I went I was the ‘new’ girl. I also felt like I was surrounded by people who were nothing like me – and I don’t mean because they were French (although that was significant). I mean they were women who worked full time, had grown or teenage children and whose lives and schedules just didn’t mesh with mine. We did find one family we really really liked, and then they moved to Berlin. I enjoy yoga, but no more than casual friendships are forming there.
I met another few women locally who were kind and one I even really liked, bubbly, happy, wanting to chatter, but the times we hung out, without the aid of André translator, just didn’t work out at all since she speaks almost no English and I spoke almost no French. Usually that led to endless boring small talk or awkward conversations where neither of us understood what the other was talking about. Saying I don’t understand once or twice in a 5 minute meeting is not really a problem, but it becomes impossible and exhausting when in longer talks! There are a few families I really like, that even speak decent English, but with everything going on I just haven’t managed to find a good time to invite them over for dinner. Again, my fault, I am a mother of three small children, with the job of managing them, plus blogging and keeping up with planning our next fabulous vacation. It’s all just excuses, I know. I can be a coward, at times. I tried horseback riding lessons, and met nice people there but again the language barrier made it impossible for me to enjoy it.
In general, being around people has always energized and excited me, it has made me happy. Instead, I would come home feeling low and depressed. I think, sometimes, that I blamed that on the wonderful people who have made themselves available for this feeling rather than the real reason. Which was me.
So, when I returned from summer vacation, with a car to use, I made a command decision. I could go back to my old fumbling ways and go to teas etc… held out of this area and with people I had little in common with OR I could try to connect with my own neighborhood, the parents of my children's friends and make that my life.
I decided the best way to really become a part of this world, meet other parents and really fit in I had to LEARN FRENCH!!!! And stop punishing myself by hanging out in groups of French speaking people feeling like an idiot. I have been going to classes 8 hours a week (10 if you count yoga – which is all in French and requires following complicated verbal instruction!) and studying on my own as well. I’ve been listening to French music more, trying to read more advanced French books, the newspaper, trying to speak more French at home, being braver about talking to people on the street etc…. etc… but, even after 16 months immersed and 5 months super immersed, I still feel lost when in conversation. I can usually understand what is going on, in general terms, but it is almost impossible for me to communicate back in any more than an extremely basic way. It is embarrassing and very difficult to keep trying something that you feel like such a failure at, over and over and over again.
So now, I need to face the fact that becoming fluent in French is most likely just not going to happen. Of course, I will still keep working on it, but being lonely while I wait for a miracle is just plain dumb. And so, if that’s the case, what should my next move be? Going back to the old groups of people? Trying to reach out to some of the new folks I’ve found since the article? Making more of an effort with the few locals I know that speak decent English?
I keep thinking I should have done things differently. That somehow, if I had, I would be surrounded by friends. But I’m not too sure what those things would be…. I guess I’m worried that feelings might be hurt. I’d hate that.
And now, I have to go to class….