September 6, 2017 § Leave a comment
I wrote the following in a newsletter a few months after moving overseas. That was a long time ago, but my thoughts on language learning haven’t changed much.
Our main goal right now is to learn the language, and we’ve been taking classes for almost three months. One of our teammates, who was here before we arrived, wrote a while back that learning Chinese is the hardest thing he’s ever done. As for me, I think I’ve done harder things, it’s just that I quit doing them after a couple hours.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that a difficult task is “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” Learning Chinese isn’t quite like that, but it’s not far off. It’s more like hanging a king-sized bed sheet on a clothesline in a strong wind. (My apologies to everyone who’s only used a clothes dryer.) Every word or sentence pattern we learn is a clothespin that holds up another part of the sheet. With enough clothespins, the sentences and stories make sense. Little by little, there are fewer and fewer sags in the sheet as we pick out and are able to use more and more words and phrases.
The trouble is, on some days, the wind whips the sheet out of our hands. On some days we run out of clothespins or drop the ones we have. On some days it rains. On some days our arms are tired and hanging up sheets is the last thing we want to try to do. And on some days, the sheet just simply turns to Jell-O.
August 20, 2017 § Leave a comment
Dépaysement. It’s a French word that means something like “culture shock,” but it’s for those times when culture shock isn’t enough to capture what you’re feeling.
I could give you my definition, but it would just be a reworking of what I’ve found others saying. Instead, I’d rather let those others speak for themselves:
- (sentiment dérangeant)disorientation
- (sentiment agréable)change of scenery
(“English Translation of ‘Dépaysement,'” Collins)
It’s hard to put your finger on the feeling. You’re away from home, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign faces. You’re apprehensive, but excited. You’re nervous, but alive.
Every synapse feels like it’s firing when you first set foot in a strange place, when you have to figure out the lay of the land, try to decide if you’re safe or in danger, if you should be elated or afraid. Every part of you is in overdrive.
What do you call that? “Culture shock” doesn’t cut it. “Excitement” doesn’t do it justice either, given that undercurrent of fear. We don’t have a single term that sums all those feelings up.
But the French do.
(Ben Groundwater, “Why ‘Depaysement’ Is the One Foreign Word Every Traveller Should Know,” Stuff, May 4, 2017)
In France, the feeling of being an outsider is known as dépaysement (literally: decountrification). Sometimes it is frustrating, leaving us feeling unsettled and out of place. And then, just sometimes, it swirls us up into a kind of giddiness, only ever felt when far away from home. When the unlikeliest of adventures seem possible. And the world becomes new again.
(Tiffany Watt Smith, Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty—154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel, Little Brown, 2016)
People do some out-of-character things in foreign countries. They strike up conversations with strangers in bars, even if they would never do the same back home. They wear unflattering hats. There’s something about being a stranger in a strange land that’s equal parts exhilarating and disorienting, and this messy mix of feelings is what the French word depaysement . . . means to capture.
(Melissa Dahl, “10 Extremely Precise Words for Emotions You Didn’t Even Know You Had,” Science of Us, New York, June 15, 2016)
The gray and quotidian machinations of metropolitan life must be “deciphered” in order to discover another reality lurking just beneath the surface, the “sous-reality” of the historical marvelous. In surrealist wanderings through old neighborhoods, parks, cafés and restaurants, the city itself is text—the hidden mysteries like the markings on the Rosetta Stone. This mode of archaeological “reading” is linked to a phenomenological position which Jean Pierre Cauvin has identified as “dépaysement”: “the sense of being out of one’s element, of being disoriented in the presence of the uncanny, or disconcerted by the unfamiliarity of a situation experienced for the first time”. Literally, we might interpret “dépaysement” as “out of country”, or “displaced from one’s homeland.” Within the surrealist context, it refers to a cool disassociation from the mores of twentieth-century Parisian culture so that everyday material objects are freed from their ideological trappings and all of Paris opens itself up as a strange civilization to be “read” for the first time.
(Sasha Colby, Stratified Modernism: The Poetics of Excavation from Gautier to Olson, Peter Lang, 2009)
More than a statement of “homesickness,” depaysement implies a sense that you cannot go home again, that you may be forever disconnected from your old world (Smith 2006). Depaysement is reminiscent of a kind of ritualistic “becoming,” but does not imply being caught in the middle, as in Turner’s (1964) “betwixt and between,” because depaysement is not qualitatively transitional. A rite of passage implies a new social role or place in a social structure. Depaysement implies a sense of being stripped of that social structure altogether. It implies a new permanence in one’s experience in the worlds.
And then there are these musicians from Japan who call themselves The Depaysement (no, not “The Basement” or “The Debasement”). Watch their video. I’m sure they’d appreciate your views.
January 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
I stumbled upon these two commercials from AT&T. I’m not sure what demographic they’re going for, but they got my attention.
The first one shows us a fun (but possibly expensive) custom from Greece. The second lets us hear that girl-next-door Lily Adams speak Russian. Turns out that the actress who plays Lily, Milana Vayntrub, was born in Uzbekistan, moving to California at age three.
November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
Paddington is one of my favorite movies that I saw last year. Much more than just a kids’ movie, it was nominated for best film at the UK’s 2015 Empire Awards, and won for best comedy. It also carries a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
The story in a nutshell is this: When Paddington comes to London, it’s not quite what he’s heard it would be. And as if it weren’t enough of a culture clash for an orphan bear to arrive in the big city, this cub comes from “Darkest Peru.”
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. It’s a great family film for Christmas time. And if you have seen it, here are some clips to refresh your memory.
First Contact: Meeting the Brown Family
BSL: Bear as a Second Language
Bathroom Etiquette: Those Aren’t Ear Brushes.
Sign Language: Why Do I Need a Dog for the Escalator?
[photo: “Paddington Bear Trail, Special Delivery By Ben Whishaw,” by Martin Pettitt, used under a Creative Commons license]
July 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
Here are 4 new advertisements in honor of the 4th of July. The first one actually commemorates the 4th. The others actually don’t. But it’s not July 1, so I needed 4 of them.
4 de Julio
Who knew that Honey Maid makes documentaries? This one’s about American immigrants. “When you first come here to America, you’re kind of like invisible. You don’t seem to be noticed, but at the same time you see that they’re looking at you.”
Last year, Brazil’s CNA language centers put English learners in contact with senior citizens in the US. Now they’re having them answer phoned-in pizza orders from the States. By staying on the line, customers can get their pizzas free. It’s a win-win with double cheese.
Are We There Yet?
You can use this to each your kids how to be annoying in five languages. This one came out late last year, but it’s new to me, which leaves me wondering: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet?
Great Chinese Names for Great Britain
“This was the first time in history that a country had invited the citizens of another to come up with names for its major landmarks.” What say we pop over to the Street for the Tall, Rich, and Handsome?
By the way, just in case you’ve never heard it asked before: Do the British have the 4th of July?
Of course they do. What else would come after the 3rd?
June 13, 2015 § 2 Comments
My son pointed me to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where John Koenig creates words to name before-unnamed emotions and ideas. Many of them are melancholy, such as amenuerosis, “the half-forlorn, half-escapist ache of a train whistle calling in the distance at night”; and chrysalism “ the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm. . . .”
Others are more on the humorous side. For instance, a reverse shibboleth, is “the practice of answering a cellphone with a generic ‘Hello?’ as if you didn’t already know exactly who was calling . . .”; and lalalalia is “the realization while talking to yourself that someone else is within earshot, which leads you to crossfade into mumbled singing. . . .”
Expats have their own feelings and experiences that are yet to be named, and I think this needs to be remedied. So while I don’t have Koenig’s talent, here are a few of my offerings:
the condition by which your over preparation for answering an expected question in another language overwhelms your auditory senses and you answer the query you’ve anticipated, no matter what is actually said, as in responding to “How many would you like?” with “Yes, but no ice, please.”
the glorious sound of the immigration agent thumbing through your passport looking for an empty page—and then adding the stamp that says you’re free to enter.
gazing out of an airplane window, seeing the new landscape below, and feeling joyfully overcome with the real and imagined possibilities.
the act of trying to predict which agent in the office will be the most likely to give you your visa or other important document and then conducting complex calculations concerning the number of people in line in front of you to see if you will get the agent you hope for. A domestic version of this is sometimes encountered in the DMV.
the physical and mental reaction that occurs when you realize that the chocolate-covered, cream-filled donut that you just took a bite of is in fact not a donut and that’s not chocolate and the filling might very well have gristle in it.
Finally, here’s one more from Koenig: onism