Musings

On Missing Linguistic Isolation

Photo on 30-09-2013 at 17.31

Something clicked in my head while I was away this Summer. I don’t know if it was something I ate, something I drank, something I smoked, but there was a definite moment when a feeling I had long felt became actualised by the outside world. That feeling of loneliness, of otherness, of being an outsider, that feeling whereby I struggle to communicate, where there is a hesitancy between what I think and my ability to express it in a readable, understandable manner… I think I have always felt, often felt, usually felt, that I don’t quite exist on the same wavelength as other people, and constantly having to communicate through deep language barriers (my English, exemplary, but otherwise pidgin Spanish, forgotten GCSE German, restaurant Italian, non-existent French and the Moroccan Arabic for “Thank you”) activated a level of distance between personal interaction that felt rather… felt rather right.

It felt correct, true, it felt appropriate that I’d have to think before speaking. There was a level of necessitated cognitive distance, a pause when approaching the most simple of back-and-forths. And I liked this, I enjoyed it. It took the pressure off immediate speed and immediate vitality, and I became used to simplifying my English, turning it into bad Spanish, straining for a single appropriate word in French… There was an effort required. And communication could only happen if both parties involved were willing to dedicate time and attention to the event. Personal interaction became both more personal – in that a focus was required from both parties, a momentary need to acknowledge the other individual as a person – but also much less personal due to the limiting constraints of partly-shared languages. So I could feel noticed and momentarily valued without having to ever share my opinions, stories, or personality, and thus illustrate my crippling lack of personal worth.

And I miss this. I’m struggling with the pauses that have become inherent in my conversation in England, with silences gaining in awkwardness, with an unsatisfiable need to develop, construct, form an argument, an idea, tell stories… Several times I have found myself beginning anecdotes that have nowhere to go, I’ve lost my vocal spark, my conversational aplomb. I’ve lost something, something clicked away: I became used to not being able to freely express myself to others, and enjoyed it so much that I am struggling, even weeks after returning, to get back into the swing of normal, unstilted conversation. I became unable to be part of a community by being a literal outsider, literally isolated, yet now I am back I must confront anew the constant, less justifiable, sense of not-belonging amongst people with whom I should feel some sort of shared cultural sympathy/knowledge. Which is annoying.

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