Today was my first day alone while B went to work. This isn't the problem that many people believe it is.
The last time we were here, B and I had only been dating for six months, and he had yet to learn all of my, ah, how to put this politely? My quirks and idiosyncrasies? He was a little concerned: "You know I'll have to work all day, right? I won't be able to hang out with you." Believe me, I understood, and it wasn't a problem. Hanging out with people constantly, even ones you love dearly, is far more draining.
Still, it was hard to let B go this morning. So much love and guilt, all mixed together. I feel horrible that he's the one going off to work and I get to play. I know how miserable and resentful I would be if I were in his shoes. A dear friend of mine, who recently became a stay-at-home mother to her three children, said, "I am not an earner anymore; I'm a consumer. I'm no better than the kids!" There is definitely a certain level of guilt to overcome, especially since our only "child" is furry, has four legs, and is currently in Pennsylvania with her grandparents.
It was almost like the city was lonely with me today. Many stores and restaurants are closed on Mondays. Some of them only open from 2-7 in the afternoon. Most of the market stalls were closed, much to my dismay.
To kill some time before lunch, I wandered down Rue Nationale, the main drag of Tours. It's a wide street with tons of shops, and I stopped in a few. At the first store, I was interested in some turquoise pants. I picked them up to try on, after the sales lady said something to me that I didn't understand, and I went into the fitting room, after the fitting room lady said something I didn't understand.
As I tried on the pants, I felt so helpless and miserable. The pants were way too big - I don't know what size I am here, and I don't know how to ask. I didn't have a clue what any of the sales ladies had said to me, despite desperately trying to glean some kind of meaning from their rapid-fire French. I sat down on the tiny bench in the dressing room, and I just wanted to go back to the apartment to take a nap. I was so tired.
It's incredibly exhausting to feel so lost on a daily basis. I have things I want to say or ask, and I want desperately to understand what others are saying to me. When you can't even understand that a sales lady is asking if you need help finding a size, you start to feel really stupid. You feel inferior. And you feel incredibly, incredibly frustrated. No wonder babies and toddlers have such meltdowns - they want to communicate things, but they just aren't able. I was close to melting down today myself.
And then, in that dressing room, it occurred to me. The answer wasn't to go back to the apartment and barricade myself. No, the only way to learn French and to learn to understand my new neighbors, restaurateurs, and shopkeepers is to keep on going out there and embarrassing the heck out of myself. I have to keep asking my questions in broken French and keep trying to decipher the replies, even if that means having to switch to English for a little while (something I HATE having to do). I have to not be humiliated by that blank look on my own face when someone says something to me and I didn't understand a word they said.
When I got back home after that excursion, I had received my Real Simple quote of the day email, and boy, it couldn't have been more timely:
So later this afternoon, as I went in search of a white wine to go with dinner, the proprietor of a wine store said something to me as I came in. I said, "Pardon?", in the hopes that he'd repeat it more slowly, but then he switched to English. "Can I help you find anything?" So I asked, in my pitiful French, "Je besoin un vin blanc pour diner au'jourdhui, avec pate primavera." He showed me several white wines, and I eventually wound up with a chardonnay. At the register, I asked him, "How do you say, 'I'm just looking,' in French?" He told me to say, "Je regarde" - "I'm looking."
Maybe I looked stupid for a minute there. But he was kind, and I learned a phrase I needed to know. And maybe that's all you can do in life, regardless of which language you speak - just keep making a fool of yourself, and keep on learning.