This almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t go. What’s wrong with me?
I’ve mentioned here before that I feel lonely in France. My experience with the people is difficult, its hard to say whether or not I find them friendly: civil but unwelcoming. And I recognize that this is a two way thing. I believe I have within me the power to make friendships happen, and I have not chosen to do so. I have chosen to isolate myself here, and I have not always enjoyed the result.
And last Friday I received an invitation from a French colleague to go out for a beer after work. First time since I arrived. The thing I have felt was missing.
On the way there I was having conversations in my head about why this did not happen. The reason seems mostly to be that I don’t let it. I don’t mix much in the cafeteria: when I started to go there I was not enjoying being surrounded by people who seemed to be having great discussions in a language I can’t follow. Even now that I can speak a bit of French, I have great difficulty following normal conversation. I feel frustrated when this happens and I have been dealing with it by not going; by removing myself from the situation that I don’t like.
It’s a strategy. It works, after a fashion, and the result is that I no longer sit feeling left-out in a crowd at coffee-breaks. Instead I sit alone by choice. I don’t have to deal with my shame and self-blame for not understanding French, but I do have to deal with the fact that I don’t mix with people. And finally, I am aware, I have used the same strategy to deal with this problem: I’m removing myself from the context by leaving France.
When I arrived at the Irish bar in the centre of Rennes, there were four people from work sitting at a table outside. One made a mime as if he wished not to see me or to be seen by me. I played along by walking by and continuing out of the square. Then I continued back in the direction of home, telling myself:
“I don’t need this in my life”.
Once again the same strategy for dealing with feelings of humiliation: run away. But humiliation is in my head, and when I run, my head comes with me. Instead of running all the way back to my apartment, I stopped on the bank of the river and sat for a while to give myself time to reflect.
I’ve used the “I don’t need this in my life” strategy all my life to deal with contexts where I felt embarrassed. Laughed at in the school disco? Never dance again, Crap on the football pitch? Eradicate sport from my life. Embarrassed in a telephone call, stop using the ‘phone. Sometimes I have chosen to undo these choices: dancing being the most obvious example. The damage caused by eradicating a certain kind of experience from my life can be severe.
I hopped off my seat by the river and wandered back to the square. The guy made the same joke as I approached the second time. Different strategy:
“Hey, what’s that? I don’t get your joke? Is it that you don’t want to see me or you don’t want me to see you or what? I don’t get it”
“Okay man, get yourself a beer and I’ll explain everything”
I got myself a whiskey; the rest is history.