Posted by: hannah jo | May 26, 2008

Je suis de retour!

Wouldn’t it be cool if I could speak French? I took one quarter of French at a local community college just for kicks long after I got my undergrad degree. I was a miserable failure in the class, consistently speaking French with a Spanish accent that was left over from two years of junior high school Spanish classes. My French teacher was brutal, imitating my horrible speaking skills in front of the whole class. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I was a total loser at speaking French during our brief visit to Paris last week. I clumsily ordered various pastries, but felt terror-stricken every time I opened my mouth. Ugh. That shame you accumulate during school, no matter how old you are when it happens, stays with you, I think.

Paris was amazing, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I was a dolt there. Thank goodness for Andy, who was more comfortable at attempting to communicate with the Parisians we encountered. Lori and I are lucky to be married to men who are outgoing about meeting new people and think nothing of striking up a conversation with strangers on public transportation, in restaurants, etc. I cringe just thinking about doing that myself.

Lori told me once that when Joe meets military veterans he always chats with them and thanks them for their service. Lori and I both grew up with dads who were enlisted in the military, so we are military brats through and through, but it had never occurred to me before to thank a veteran for serving our country. So, once at Costco, I saw an older gentleman perusing a book about the US Navy and I worked up the nerve to ask him if he had served in the Navy. He had, so I told him that my father had, as well, and I thanked him for his service. He looked at me, stunned, and then got tears in his eyes. He shook my hand and thanked me. I can’t even think about that moment now without getting all teary-eyed myself. We hung out a bit and chatted some more and I could tell he was very grateful for the brief recognition. That simple interaction was so moving, but such a huge stretch for me, and I can’t even really explain why, especially considering that I have a job that I love that requires me to talk to many, many strangers every day. For some reason, speaking to those strangers is not an issue for me. But, initiating contact with strangers outside of a work context is actually painful for me. Really. It’s physically painful. Initiating contact with strangers in a foreign language? TWICE AS PAINFUL!

Despite all of my carrying on about my sucky French skills, we really did have a wonderful trip. We started in London for a week, where we joined Andy’s mom, Mary. She made most of the trip possible, thanks to winning a raffle that included air fare for two to London and six nights’ stay at the Churchill Hyatt Regency. So, thank you, again, Mary! London was a blast. We visited many of the usual touristy places and walked for miles and miles. We also became huge fans of the Underground Tube, which we hopped on and off of several times each day. Lily was a pro at reading the Tube maps and figuring out routes for us. We loved the London Eye, the British Library (of course), the Tower of London, the Tate Modern, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Victoria & Albert Museum (which happened to be hosting an excellent exhibition called Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book), the Beatles Walking Tour, and too many other things to list. (Sorry I’m not providing links — it’s late and I’m tired.)

After London, Mary headed to York to visit some friends, so Andy, Lily, and I took the Chunnel to Paris for three nights. We stayed at a lovely little hotel near the Eiffel Tower that used to be a convent. Not quite the 5-star experience we had just enjoyed in London, so Lily was disappointed, but Andy and I loved it. Once again, we hopped on and off the Tube and walked many miles and went to the usual touristy places. I’m still stunned that we saw such famous paintings at the Musee d’Orsay, up close and in person — iconic paintings that I had studied in art history classes way back when and that we see replicated in popular culture all the time. Every time we turned the corner, we’d find another one — a Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Renoir, you name it.

I still kind of can’t believe we saw paintings like Van Gogh’s Self Portrait and Starry Night. All the stress and isolation I felt as a result of being surrounded by a language I didn’t understand and people who weren’t especially kind or helpful washed away while I was looking at those paintings.

I’d love to share more about our trip, but it will have to wait. I’m heading back to work tomorrow (and starting a new job on Wednesday), so I’d better get my jet-legged hiney into bed. Thank you, Lori, for your stellar posts while I was away! I promise I’m not taking off for anywhere else anytime soon.

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Responses

  1. I love hearing about your trip. Most of all, thank you for the Costco encounter story. It made me cry. And miss my dad. And want to thank someone for serving.

  2. Wow — sounds like you had a great trip. When we travel, it seems like we take turns being the one who asks questions and figures out what’s going on. However, Bob is the champ at predicting when I’ve reached meltdown and will find me a place to sit and something to eat or drink or whatever I need.

  3. Hannah! I didn’t know you had a blog!

    Isn’t the Tube AWESOME? Every time I visit a city with a subway I get so angry that we don’t have one here. Oh, Seattle. Maybe some day…

  4. I felt the same way in Paris, but I had more reason than you to feel like an idiot there, since I’ve taken about 3.5 years of French altogether to almost no effect. This was actually part of the reason I didn’t want to go there on our trip, which is kind of lame, I guess. But I can’t help it.

    We learned about 6-8 words or phrases in both Croatian and Italian. EVERYONE in Croatia spoke English, so we barely got to use those. Everyone in Italy did too, but they were good sports about letting us mispronounce our handful of phrases. It was good for our self esteem.


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