Sleep-deprived two Speakeasies in a row. I guess my beginner’s luck had run out because this time the words did not magically flow from my uncooperative brain.
As I was expending copious amounts of energy trying to say anything like something an actual French person would say, I was simultaneously having an out of body experience in which I was hovering above myself taking great pride in every single word that came out of my mouth, because here I was speaking another language, which is just nuts considering I don’t speak another language.
At the same time, I realized with a jolt that the person across from me was opening his mouth and effortlessly releasing words that flowed intuitively one from the other. There was absolutely no struggle on his part because he had been speaking this language from infancy the same way that I had been speaking English. For him, French is neither fun, nor frustrating, nor anything other than utilitarian.
It struck me as utterly bizarre that his native language was my foreign language and vice versa – that what I experience in a French conversation is 100% different than what he does. It’s not as though I have never thought about this before, but at that moment it felt like when you repeat your own name over and over until it sounds completely unfamiliar.
I should really get more sleep before I go back to one of these things…
[Photo: Valeri Passon]
Early Monday morning I had been asleep for about four hours when my radiator came on making sounds like it was being beaten by an angry mob of hammers. It didn’t stop even after I closed the valve, and I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
Both drunkenness and sleep deprivation severely affect my ability to speak a foreign language – but not always in a bad way. They can sometimes render me mute and flailing, but they can also lower my inhibitions and inspire stream of consciousness-style gabbing far more advanced than my wide awake and sober self is capable of. It’s always a toss-up which extreme I’ll swing towards, so I didn’t know whether my Spanish class on Monday afternoon and French Speakeasy event that evening would be disastrous or miraculous.
Turns out it was a little of both. In Spanish I couldn’t put two words together and did more miming than talking, but in French I was transcendent. (Relative only to myself.)
One of my speaking partners was a woman, Christine (in the picture above), who is harboring remarkably similar dreams to mine right now. I think it was four years ago that she took a cargo ship from France to the United States in search of adventure and now she wants to travel the world, learning new things in each country and picking up jobs along the way taking photos for non-profits. We agreed it would be fun to conspire together, and in the meantime I signed up for the next Speakeasy in November…