In Paris on Sunday, I was having a late lunch in a restaurant and was reminded of something I had noticed in Ibiza on my way to Formentera last year, life is better when you speak fewer languages:
At the port, I also learned another interesting piece of information about myself: I am perfectly happy to only speak English and Spanish. What I love is the sound of language. It is great to be able to listen to language and not understand the words. That way you can project any meaning onto the words that you choose or simply enjoy the words as if they were the sounds coming from musical instruments. What is worst of all is when you actually understand what is being said and are forced to follow someone else’s conversation. You learn that people have the most irrelevant, mundane, and even offensively simple-minded verbal exchanges. It is analogous to having someone fart on the elevator. They are sharing their innermost bodily stink with you, the doors are shut, and there is no where to go for fresh air. So, I sat and listened, mainly to Mallorquín being spoken, and loved every minute of it.
And when the person sitting next to you is from your own country and you overhear his conversation, especially when he is saying repeated, “I’m going to be totally honest with you,” you really want to puke! We often think of “prejudice” as a negative thing, but it is also an important defense mechanism that allows us to make split second decisions about how to react to certain stimuli. In other words, “prejudice” (and I am not talking about “racial prejudice” but the ability to make pre-determinations) keeps us from dealing with such incredible merde.
One thing you lose when you move or travel to a new country is the power of prejudice. The power of prejudice is the sum of a life of experiences and trials and errors that permits you to choose, say between buying one brand of frozen pizza or another, or whether to go on a date with one person or another. When you are in new place, you go to the supermarket and you have no idea which brand of sliced bread to buy, which cookies, etc. The same thing happens when meeting people. It is hard to tell who is for real and who isn’t.
So when I was shown to my table, all I had to see at the next table was the man’s pony tail, his choice of sneakers and shirt and pants combination to know exactly what type of “American” he was. As a matter of fact, I knew he was American right away before I even saw his face or heard him speak. Then he started to speak, and I couldn’t turn down the volume or shut him out. I wanted to scream, “Please stop the B.S.” And to tell the woman he was with to “Please don’t buy the crap he is selling. It is definitely NOT ou-la-la!”
The first thing I heard him say was, “Now, I am going to be totally honest with you.” First rule, never trust anyone who tells you they are “going to be honest with you.” He followed it by saying that he didn’t want to be like his father and have 3 or 4 women at the same time, living a life of infidelity. He continued to describe the “woman” he lives with now as just a woman who lives in the same house as him but doesn’t share his life in any way. He didn’t even consider her a “friend”.
And it just kept going on and on. She barely said a word. He did all of the talking. I heard him saying the “honest with you” thing on three more occasions. At point he asked her whether she was uncomfortable talking to him on the phone because her family would overhear the conversation. This made me think that maybe she was married (also?). Then he explained that when he left his house, he told whomever “her” was that she didn’t have a right to ask him where he was going. Obviously this didn’t quite fit with the early things he said. But, I think he just wanted to show that he was independent.
He then abruptly changed the subject saying that they should talk about lighter matters. So he told her, “Let’s talk about film. Why don’t you tell me a suspense film that you really loved. I am sure I can then recommend one that you will like even better.” Before she could answer, he went on about which ones she probably already liked. He also told her that his French was very good but that because he was such a perfectionist, he preferred not to speak French because he couldn’t stand committing even the slightest of errors.
I was shocked that his woman, who even though she was very unattractive, was buying any of what he was saying. The tipping point for me was when he said that he was considering dedicating more time to his music. He was even thinking of going into Christian music like his father because “he gets all of his confidence from the Lord.”
Would an American woman really buy of this crap? I sure hope not, yet this French woman was eating it all up. The irony is that the French think of Americans as the most ignorant hominids (to use James’ term) on the planet. Americans may be ignorant, but this woman was really naive.
I suppose this highlights the two natural extremes: ignorance and prejudice. Prejudice keeps us from being so very naive. Had this woman been more familiar with the not-so-subtle subtleties of American culture, she would have been able to make a quick judgment and not have been so enchanté with this bouffon.
Up until that point, I was thankfully ignorant of French and could peacefully listen to the music of language without having to hear what anyone was saying.