Sunday, May 22, 2011

saturday: weird turned wonderful turned disastrous

I've written about it a ton already: this impatience with the Romanian language, this longing to be able to really engage in it. There are some days when it comes easily, when I could talk all day long without a problem. And then there are others when it won't come at all. I'm thinking of last night, when all I wanted to do was have fun with my friends, get to know them better. But I couldn't speak at all. Every time I tried, the Romanian would not come. It was enough to just listen. Someone even asked me--I just about died--if I speak. As in, Sara, do you talk? It's a melodramatic example, but ask a guy in a wheelchair watching a soccer game, do you not play soccer? How badly he wants to! (The example is ridiculous because a guy in a wheelchair clearly has at least some obstacles to playing soccer, whereas who knows, if you don't know me it's easy and totally fair to assume that maybe I just am that quiet.)

Now I think there are several things going on here in general that just so happened to sync up last night in a most inopportune way. First, being an introvert, even one who loves hanging out with people, predisposes you to getting drained really quickly in this sort of situation.

Second, it seems much easier to talk with people one-on-one. The dynamic there is completely different, and in the instance that you have maybe intermediate language skills, with a little bit of conversational know-how and leading questions, you can get the other person talking. This is a win-win because you get to know the other person and it is without the stress of having to immediately (without thinking) respond, while engaging. And people like to be listened, to be heard, I think.

Anyway, the rhythm is just different. The group dynamic is another beast altogether. It's fast, it bounces back and forth, it requires the ability to make small talk, witty banter, all that--harder than you'd expect in not-your-language. But all this back and forth, it's enough just understanding all of it. There's lag here. You're understanding things five seconds after they're said and by then it's onto something different. Imagine a lagging computer, everything bogged down by a slow system and too many programs running at once. It feels this way so often, like when the audio is a few seconds behind the video, which explains my very passive response to a creepy dude in the park yesterday when normally I might have karate-chopped him. Maybe. "I'ma slap you in yo' eye and see how you like it!"

In the end what you get is straight-up exhaustion. I hate to go back to the computer metaphor, but it locks up. Meanwhile, by the end of the night, everything I wanted to do I couldn't and ended up so withdrawn and disengaged and awkward I feel like I ought to apologize to everyone there. And these are people who are patient with me, these are my very understanding friends!

The logic balks, it says, I understand this, it is on its way to being fixed. True that I learn more every day. But the question is of now, of being tired from it. Today I had to ask a friend if I could just speak in English and nearly started crying, in fact would have had it not been for a well-timed interruption. I'm not really an emotional person (despite what the blog might lead one to believe), but I do know this is normal. The question is what to do--or will I have to wait it out?

I'm in the park writing in my notebook now, watching and thinking and praying, as has become my habit. I want to have these conversations, can't wait for it to come easily. So tomorrow, God-willing, I will jump back in.

p.s. if any of you actually read this, sorry for the rant. I hope if you'll ever be immersed cross-culturally/ this will help to prepare you for some of the craziness and frustrations. Or that if you are now, it's encouraging somehow--we shall press on! And if you are/have: how did you deal with it?

p.s.s. just realized i never made it around to the context of the title. In summary, my day yesterday: some creepy dude tried to pick me up in a park (the weird), we got caught in an epic storm, complete with Wilmington-worthy flooding of the intersection at Tineretului and running across Bucuresti barefoot and up to our ankles in water (the wonderful), played Settlers with awesome people and laughed and ate olives (more wonderful). And then system crash (see: above).


  1. Heh... I remember when I joined an organization where we had to speak only English since there were some internationals. Well... my English was and is still is far from good... I can't even say that I'm a beginner because I have no knowledge of English grammar.
    So... in just a few seconds I became stupid. It's a strange feeling... in one language you're doing very well... in the other you're unable to say more than 5 words. But after a week or two I started to feel more confident and did better. It was a painful experience. Probably the only difference in my case is that I understood pretty much everything but I wasn't able to talk or when I was I said it like a kid that just started to talk.
    Now... I guess it has to be very difficult to move in a different country with a different language, culture (I guess the differences aren't that big? But I might be mistaken) and so on.
    Anyway... Sara... I have absolutely no doubt that you'll do more than great. You moved here just a few months ago and already understand the language and trust me... Romanian is a difficult language... even for Romanians. Most of us don't speak it correctly few years after school.
    Regarding you emotions... well... as you already probably know a lot of Romanians live in different countries (about 4-5 millions). I met a lot of them and even my mother lived in Israel for 3 years. In the beginning everything seems new to you and you want to see more and so on... but after a few months you get used to your new place and the what we call in Romanian DOR (probably in english will be homesickness) starts to appear. Unfortunately I don't know if it will disappear :(

  2. # And if you are/have: how did you deal with it?

    Well, I paced myself. In Tokyo, during our first year or so, I went to the bank because I wanted to pay our bills from my bank account. (There basically aren't checks in Japan; people typically go to the 7-eleven or something to pay those bills. I'd heard you could have the bank pay the bills, so I'd gone down there to talk to someone about it.)

    After what felt like two hours, I wasn't quite dripping with sweat, but neither was I anywhere close to getting auto bill-pay set up. I went home and took a rest before venturing outside again -- I'd told the guys at work I was going to try to set something up at the bank.

    It might have been a year after that when, standing on a train platform, I had the happy experience of understanding every single word of the announcement. I don't remember today what the announcement said exactly, but on that day I was elated to hear and know every word.

    And a few years after that, I had people tell me they thought I was Japanese. Now there was a happy surprise -- one I believe you'll have one day too.

  3. @anonymous, thank you for the encouragement! i'm just wondering, are you someone i know in bucuresti or the same anonymous from brasov?

    @collin thank you! yes, pacing myself (along with being patient) is something i have to keep reminding myself of, so it is good to hear it from someone who has been there. japanese, though, i can hardly imagine--it's supposed to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, no?

  4. the same anonymous from brasov :)

  5. Sara I just had a long great conversation with a girl I met at church who just finished 2 years in Turkey. I asked her about language for you, and her response was, "She's been there three months? Girl, she just needs to chill a little bit." She said in Turkey when Americans come & learn it they always hit a wall at 6 months and say "I will never learn this language!!!!". But by a year, it's way better, that they were learning a lot even when it didn't feel like it. She said a good goal for expecting to be able to have heart talks and share the good news meaningfully is a year. At least, that's what is was for Turkish, which is of course a step beyond Romanian. So just another insight, from my new friend :)

  6. oh julie, she's exactly right. about me needing to chill, and i know it. i think part of the problem is that i know i learn language well and quickly and so i think i must have honestly expected to be practically fluent before the english camps. and of course i'm not, that would be completely insane. so it's just a matter of being patient. that said, i'm still waiting on that clicking sound you told me about!! =p