Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Me, Prejudiced? I Guess So.

Listening to Maggie, Demet and Roland's current Au Pair, explain in English what the plan is for the day, I find myself trying to think about what she sounds like in German.  This happens a lot of times with my friends and acquaintances who sport a foreign accent and who do not speak fluent English.  Language is the tool we use to think, to explain, to commune, and to gauge our opinions about people.  When I hear someone speaking English whose mother tongue is German, or any other language, it is easy to assume they are not very capable or educated.  Or smart.

The truth is of course that they are probably smarter than me because they can actually speak to me in another language besides their mother tongue.  It's that I am prejudiced.  Grammar was not my best subject in school, I couldn't explain to you all the tenses and gerunds and blah blah blah in English because I don't know them.  But, I can edit your research paper and give you back your piece with hardly any mistakes.  So, when someone writes me on Facebook or speaks to me on the street and their grammar is crap, I notice.  And I immediately think less of them.  Because I figure if you cannot speak or write well, you're not worth much of my time.  Now, granted, I am not a huge stickler.  No, it's the obvious grammar and sentence structure mistakes that kill me.  Yeah, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so, it rubs off on how I view and assess the people around me.

The part of me that I am trying to change is my judgment of my foreign friends.  When you hear a foreign accent, do you not tend to speak down to them in some ways?  I know I can.  And I hate it.  Because, for all I know, they have impeccable grammar in their mother tongue and are eloquent in their speech.  But all I hear is my language spoken incorrectly.  I want to be able to hear someone speaking to me in a foreign accent, with grammatical mistakes strewn throughout the sentences, and look beyond the mistakes and see the person.  Which includes their accent, which comes from their mother tongue, a vital part of their beliefs and upbringing and worldview.  Something so precious as language should not push me away from a person, it should bring me closer to them.  Thus, I recognize my prejudices and am working every day to change my thoughts and my hearing.  Because I love languages, and other cultures, and even foreign accents.  I do not want a foreign accent to hinder my ability to discover and learn more about a person.  I also do not want it to hinder my ability to see them as an equal.  Because they are, and by being prejudiced against their accent and ability/inability to speak English, I show that in all actuality, they are probably better, more capable, more educated, and smarter than I.

Perhaps I will add this to my New Year's resolutions.  Yes. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Today I went to the catacombs of Paris.  They had walls of bones.  I mean, any medical student would have been thrilled by the number of femurs and ulnae and skulls and scapulae and so many other bones that were there!  And the tops of the bones, where the joint is, were the walls, stacked on top of each other so that they looked like bricks, with skulls interspersed throughout them and sometimes placed in such a way to create a picture, such as a heart or a cross.  Wow.  So many bones.  And tunnel upon tunnel.  Who ever knew that 350 km of grave existed underneath Paris.  Now you do.

In the morning, when I wake up, I get out of bed and open up the shudders on my window.  It's one of my favorite things to do in the morning because, first of all, I get to smell the crisp, cool air.  Secondly, and more importantly, I can hear the birds singing.  And I mean, it's cold outside, and there are songbirds singing.  It's a weird feeling to hear songbirds in January.  Especially coming from Idaho and Nebraska where songbirds don't start singing until April, when it's actually springtime.  The birds are lovely, and they are screwing up my idea of what season it is.

Sheep cheese exists in France.  And we have it in our fridge at home.  Could my life be any sweeter?  Nine.  I love sheep cheese.  Seriously.  Ever since eating it in Albania, I have looked and looked for it in the States, but I have never found it.  But, of course, the French being the lovers of cheese that they are, have sheep cheese.  I think I just died and went to heaven.

Not everyone is fashionable in France.  Yeah, I know, you're thinking, what?  Nope, not everyone is.  Actually, I think it's just more that Europeans buy clothes that are of better quality so they look better.  This is what I have decided.  Because they get their clothes from within Europe, typically, they have better quality clothes, rather than what we get from China.  Sorry, China, you just don't really make that great of quality clothes.  Anyway, I feel better about my lack of chicness when what I see in Paris, or I should say on the outskirts of Paris, isn't so insanely chic.  Oh the things we learn when we people watch.

When Maggi (said Maggie) leaves, I will be working a lot more than I thought.  But that's okay, I still have time to study and hang out during the day and on the weekends.  Of course, I get to study lots when I am with the girls because all we do is speak Deutsch.  Speaking of studying Deutsch, Demet has found a German teacher for me to take private lessons with four hours a week for these first couple of months so the girls and I will be able to communicate.  Once I am done with those lessons then I will start with my French courses.  I am quiet excited to be learning German, it could be French and I would still be excited, I am just happy to be learning more languages! 

Life is gut, and I am very happy and slowly getting into the time zone, although I am still waking up and feeling like I can actually go to sleep.  Wake up time here is bed time at home, ya, annoying.  Oh well, 25 more days and my body will have an official new time clock. Well, time for bed, gute nacht! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Arriving Home

The smell of moist air brought my heart back to several different places, including Seattle, Albania, and Florence.  It is amazing how, after spending 10 months abroad, home is something so transient for me.  Stepping out of the car, after traveling for nearly 24 hours, morning air scented with dew hit my nose and I knew I was home.  The idea of home is an interesting one to me, especially because anytime that I travel and live in a place for more than three weeks, I begin to call it home.  Waiting in the Newark International Airport for my flight to Paris to depart, I overheard two African men (I am unsure as to which country they were from in Africa, sorry) discussing how excited they were to be going home.  Each man had lived in the US for more than 5 years and both were speaking on how, even after living in the States for so long, they always felt like they were truly going home when traveling to Africa.  I don't seem to have these feelings when I travel back to, what most people would consider, my home.  The feelings are more that I am moving from one home to another.  And I truly enjoy this fact.  To be able to move from one place to the next and connect with it in such a way that I do not feel without place is a huge blessing.  I am thankful for my transient version of home.

My new home is lovely.  And oh so very European.  It has three floors and a basement, and yet feels relatively small because it's width and length are small in comparison to it's height.  It's height isn't even that great, but the Europeans know how to build efficiently so that all space is used effectively.  The floors are all wooden and all the toilets have two buttons for flushing, one for number one and one for number two.  I am currently staying in Melis', the youngest daughter, room until Maggie, their current au pair, travels back to Germany in about a month.  The girls are so sweet.  Aylin is the eldest and has the most charming smile.  She reminds me so much of my niece, Vashti.  I have already been learning German from everyone in the home.  This evening, during supper, we were speaking in English, German, French, Italian, Turkish, and Albanian.  My heart couldn't have been happier.

We also played pantomime at the table after we were mostly done eating.  The girls are so creative and it was a lot of fun. 

Have you ever noticed how some homes, or places, have an 'at rest' feel to them?  While other homes feel depressed, chaotic, or just plain uncomfortable?  Well, I must say that upon walking into Demet and Roland's home, I felt at rest.  The home is peaceful, nurturing, and content.  I could not have asked for a better family to live with and work for.

I am focusing for this first month on learning German, which I have a feeling I will pick up quiet quickly seeing that the girls speak hardly any English.  They have both already decided that they will spend one hour a day teaching me German.  Which I love.  I truly am not worried about learning German.  My goal after getting a good working knowledge of German is to tackle the beast of finding friends who can only speak French  with me.  And then also keeping up my Italian.  Because I love my Italian.

It is time for me to go to bed so I can get into the time zone here.  Gute nacht, naten e mire, bonne nuit, buonanotte, and good night!