Two days ago I was sitting in a French living room with four twenty five year old boys playing cup games. Today I found myself sitting in an English living room with three ten-month-olds and their mothers playing games with cups. I’m not sure which game I comprehended more.
In France I always struggled to understand the most basic things and I didn’t really know anyone or have reason to know anyone. Nevertheless, I never felt left out or like I didn’t belong. It was all so interesting and I had to try so hard.
In England, I occasionally have to think about what a “jab” is, but can otherwise have very sophisticated simultaneous conversations about generative economies, Buddhist conceptions of the sanctity of life, and how to taste cheese.
I also know people. Within hours of arriving at London’s St. Pancras Train Station from Paris’s Gare du Nord, I found myself ordering another serving of pig skins and cod roe with an old Brooklyn roommate, before heading out to Slough (the setting of the BBC’s The Office) to spend a couple nights with an old college friend.
Nevertheless, today as I was sitting on the floor with the jabbering babies — at least one of whom I will surely one day have a conversation in our shared native language — drinking tea, and talking about vaccinations, I realized none of it felt as comfortable as the struggles and confusion I experienced over the past seven weeks.
It’s easier and more comfortable, surely, but nowhere near as interesting or trying.
Perhaps I was a Frenchman in a past life, or perhaps life is richer when you have to work harder.