birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Lost in Language

I really enjoy studying languages, and discovering how their very structure reveals the inner workings of a foreign culture. I studied French in high school and college, and eventually spent my junior year in Paris, where I hoped to finally master the language.

But even after year spent immersed in school in Paris, where we only spoke French in class, I never achieved fluency. I lived with French people, watched French movies, and even, eventually, dreamed in French. In live conversation, though, I could barely keep my head above water.

My accent was good enough to see me through an opening exchange without embarrassment, but eventually, my comprehension just could not keep up with the overwhelming flow of a language that sounded familiar but from whose mass it was impossible to pick out more than a few identifiable words. How did they fit together? What did it mean? Instead I found myself smiling and nodding along, and as I performed these mannerisms I realized that I'd seen them all my life, from the foreigners I knew in my country. Always seeming agreeable, but perhaps, barely understanding at all.

The better I grew, the more complicated situations became. People would assume that if I could speak French passably, I understood a whole array of customs that were taken for granted in their culture, but of which I knew nothing. The similarity of European cultures to American, I realized, was superficial. I began to think of navigating French culture like trying to cross a river that has a hidden path of stones, not knowing where they are from looking at the surface, but having to feel my way along, and taking quite a few falls into the treacherous water.

Lifetime Imposter

One Damn Closet After Another