When I arrived in Paris on September 1st, I got off the train at Gare du Nord and desperately needed make a bathroom pitstop. I wheeled my massive suitcase to the nearest toilettes (across the station and down a hazardous escalator) only to realize they required 70 cents for entry, but I did not yet possess even a singular Euro. Because this business couldn’t wait until I arrived at the hostel, I was determinded to find a way in. So, I withdrew 100 Euro from the nearest ATM, halfway across the massive train station, and then I faced the fact that the bathrrom gatekeeper would not break the ATM’s 50s. I needed a way to get change. Another trial. I decided to buy a candy bar at the nearest conviencience store and once acquired I raced back down the escalator, luggage in tow. When I got to the bathroom, there was a massive line and an even more insurmountable obstacle: an attendent who only spoke French. These were the first moments where I had to put my French to the test to get something I needed.
In the time since then, encounters of this variety are innumerable. Although, often, the cashiers at shops speak English, my plight for entry has become much more about proving myself. I want to be able to show to them (and mostly me) that I can execute a conversation in French, knowing all the little codes to get out of the store emotionally unscathed. All that’s at risk, in reality, is my pride – even when I mess up speaking the worst that happens is a response in English or an offhand “you American” look. Neither of these are deadly, but the ensuing intimidation that I acquire often becomes an obstacle against acquiring the experiences in which I wish to partake.
I recently wanted to get a library card for a hallowed and historic library near my house, but the online instructions for getting a card were not explaining why there was such a long line outside the library everytime I tried to gain entry. I faced the queue of cool looking french young adults and turned around, went home and ate frozen pizza in my room instead of doing my homework. This is in no way a glamorous picture of my adventurous characteristics, but its the truth of that moment. The next day, I went back, still did not engage with the line outside and walked right into the library. I was allowed to get a card and study for a few hours under the beautiful arched ceilings. However, I still did not understand the protocol behind the line, so when I tried to return, and the doorman stopped me from just waltzing in. I needed to strike up a conversation and figure out what the actual procedure was that I needed to follow, so that I could study inside.
Although I can articulate how illogical these fears are, when I let them build up in my head, they can stop me from exploring my interests or gaining worthwhile experiences in my new city. I am slowly learning to conqeor these fears by adhering to the advice ‘be too curious to care.” I try to encourage myself not to back into the fears of messing up the language and owning up to my linguistic shortcomings. A new lovely looking shop opened up on my street recently, and I plowed past my anxieties right into a conversation with the shop owner about her products. I ended up with a new coat and the satisfaction that when I get past the doorways, none of these conversations in French are impossible, nor am I incapable of expressing myself. Each time nothing scares me off, I become more emboldened to take more risks and actually come closer to overcoming my fears.