Last week we hopped a cheap flight to London to visit our son for his birthday. The trip was well-timed!
I’m not a Third Culture Person, a global nomad, or whatever you want to call it. Though my country seems to be losing its collective mind and conscience lately, I still identify strongly as an American. I know where I belong, and I do get homesick sometimes, even after all these years overseas. The onset of winter in Warsaw has triggered one of these little waves of homesickness. (It’s already pitch dark by 4 PM. Seriously.)
When we landed in London, though, I immediately felt at home. Or at least halfway home.
No, I am not British. But, I lived there for a year back when dinosaurs roamed, and have always been a big consumer of British culture. Probably 75 percent of my television viewing is British. I just like their TV shows better than most American ones. I also read stacks of British crime novels. Thanks to all that exposure, I understand British slang and accents, and can mind the gap, keep left, and “alight” from the trains. So, the UK is well within my comfort zone as far as daily life goes.
Polish has been a major stressor for me. Not the Polish, who generally are some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet—and who will be the first to tell you that Polish is a language so difficult that speaking fluently is truly a “superpower.” In fact it is supposed to be one of the ten most difficult languages to learn. It says a lot that I keep inadvertently defaulting to Czech here because it is actually easier than Polish!
Vienna was a little different: though it is difficult to speak German fluently, there are so many English cognates that getting the gist of things is achievable even without intensive classes. Spanish was downright easy. It’s the one foreign language I can speak with some fluency. And it’s so useful! We were truly spoiled to have three Spanish-language posts early in my husband’s career. Even though they were all hardship posts, I still consider that to have been a stroke of luck.
And yes, I am continuing to take Polish classes, but I am also realistic about how much that will accomplish–and how much effort I am willing to put into it for a three year post at the sunset of my husband’s overseas career. I mean, are we likely to get posted to Poland again? Not very. Am I likely to ever need more than a few words of Polish after leaving Warsaw? Nope. Am I getting by OK now? Pretty much. I’ll probably continue for the rest of our first year at post just on principle, then let it go.
I dislike living in a language bubble, that’s all. I’m a communicator. It’s what I do. Also, pretty used to being a competent adult by now. It’s not really all that much fun to be reduced to a toddler’s vocabulary. The first couple of times you live overseas, this can be hilariously entertaining, but by the third or fourth post, when it sinks in that this is your actual life, it’s just exasperating.
None of this keeps me from doing anything I need to do. Lord knows, I’m used to being clueless by now. There’s just a constant, low level of stress attaching itself to just about any normal, daily activity. I need a quarter-kilo of salmon at the supermarket. How do I say that? And what if the fish lady replies and I don’t understand her? What if she is annoyed or downright mean to me? (Not that it is very likely in Warsaw. This is a very polite country. I just have a bit of PTSD from many grumpy old commies in Prague and a few autocratic Austrians in Vienna.)
So, four days of English language and cultural immersion were just the ticket. With airlines essentially running airborne Greyhound buses to London from Warsaw due to all the Poles working in London, I’ll have to make these trips a habit while we are posted here. (I heard Polish being spoken at least three times over the weekend we spent there!)
We also got to see our son, who is doing very well at university in London, and has managed not to break up with his lovely girlfriend despite sharing the tiniest apartment I have ever seen with her. Super proud of both of them for taking on this adventure and making it work. That was a lot of growing up to do in one year!
Who knows? Maybe they will end up making their permanent home in the UK. Now, that would be handy, wouldn’t it 😉