Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sensory Overload


So much English.

I understand the conversations happening around me.

I don't want to understand the conversations around me.

So my German skills are progressing, but they are not nearly where they should be. I have plans to rectify this in January, when it's cold, blustery and gray--then I will sit in a classroom and learn. There was no way I was wasting my first summer in Switzerland sitting in a classroom. So this past summer I have relied on Dan to be my language instructor, and it was Swiss German that I was learning.

Swiss German is not as harsh sounding as German, but it has taken me some time to learn this. Sure there are definitely some words that can only be spoken by clearing out the massive phlegm wad in the back of the throat, but generally speaking it's a more up-and-down language, whereas German is straight and hardcore SCHMETTERLING all the time.

I can grab words out of the conversations that are happening around me, and when I'm sitting at the dinner table with family and friends I understand enough words in their Swiss German conversation to know what they are discussing, but I can only participate in my Swiss German-English hybrid, that relies heavily on English.

I am looking forward to taking German class because I want to learn how to put together a proper sentence, and I want to know some of those simpler words that will help me communicate. But maybe I don't want to know enough to understand what strangers are saying around me.

For over five months I have been this blissfully little isolated island in society who talks to people when she chooses, but in no way do I have a comprehensive understanding of what people are saying around me. Sure I understand they are talking about Thursday dinner, or a Sunday hike, or taking the dog to the vet, or how much they spent on groceries, but that's about the extent of it.

Cut to me on Tuesday morning sitting in the departures lounge at Frankfurt International and being surrounded by my fellow Canadians.

Holy sensory overload Batman!

I heard a conversation wherein bowel movements were discussed! There was some irritated bickering over the fact that one husband hadn't wanted to visit a certain restaurant in Vienna, and now the wife had no clue what she's supposed to tell Lory, when Lory asks 'did you try that restaurant in Vienna that I recommend? Wasn't it heavenly?'



Then when I got onto the plane, and we'd been cruising for an hour, the flight attendants started bustling around to tend to us wee little infant passengers.

(Tangent: Don't you guys feel like when you're flying, we are really being treated like children. We can yell for a bottle (of red wine) and the attendants bustle to tend to our needs, we watch television and movies to keep us quiet, they dim the cabin lights announcing it is time to sleep, and then when they want us to wake up, they put a refreshing lemon scent into the plane's fan system to lightly rouse us so that we will be wide awake then they roll down the aisle with our plates of mush, where all the foods are separated into their own compartment on the tray so they don't touch. I laugh about this every plane ride.)

As the attendants were helping us, they bantered with us, the passengers. Banter I tell you, honest to goodness bantering.

I was so confused.

Especially when I requested from one attendant a new customs form, because a dip of turbulence had sent my pen scratching across the page and ruining my current form.

"A new form! I don't know about that. You're only allowed one!" he said to me good naturedly.

Of course I knew he was joking, but my wits were all askew because I hadn't bantered with a stranger for over five months.

"Oh rats, I only get one....oh rats...."


"Now you will have to be held up at customs too. Finally, someone other than me being grilled about what sort of bananas they're bringing in to the country. HAHAHA."

"Bananas. Haha...haha...I don't have bananas....not even banana chocolate. I mean I'm coming from Switzerland, so I'm bringing chocolate. But it's not banana flavoured...I hate customs..."


"I'm just teasing you! It's the best part of my job (SMILEY FACE)."

"Oh, I know. I'm just...not used to all this English...hearing it..."


I got the new form, but not without suffering a serious blow to my ego. I used to consider myself the queen of banter, thanks a lot Switzerland!

When I hit Canada I had to clear airport security again to make another connecting flight. I walked through the metal detector and was waved aside to collect my belongings; as I was repacking my computer, putting on my belt, and cursing the general process really, the only thing I could hear were the two metal detector operators having a conversation wherein the one operator was super pissed because her *rich* uncle was being scammed by a gold digger, and he'd paid for this "douche" to get new boobs. And this operator (who looked like she just graduated from high school) was so 'jammed' (what sort of slang is this?) that her *rich* uncle was 'such a man' and that he was 'such a tool who's only thinking with the wrong brain'.

Does this strike anyone else as being highly unprofessional?

Especially for an airport security operator?

But my story does not end there people.

Then as I was sitting on the little rickety airplane that was to take me into Kamloops, my seat mate turned out to be none other than the one person I had sized up in the Calgary departures lounge and decided I didn't want to be seat mates with.

(Anyone else do this, or am I just a bitch?)

She'd been doing yoga in the departures lounge; she'd been clasping her hands together and pointing her index fingers out and pointing to the sky, and pointing to the earth, and pointing to her own chest, while doing the most awkward looking stretches. Then I decided that if airports have chapels in them, shouldn't they also have yoga rooms considering so many people profess this to be their new religion? Then we wouldn't all have to be super uncomfortable when all we want to do is get to the vending machine, but someone is sitting in front of it, raising up her leg and trying to pull it over her shoulder.

So this woman sits down beside me on the plane, and I try to pretend I'm sleeping. After all, at this point I had now been awake for over 24 hours--I don't sleep on planes. But this woman was a chatterbox, and you know why?

Because she was just returning from a ten day SILENT spiritual retreat and I got to be the lucky person who she unloaded her ten days of silence on.

She told me that I 'didn't look very good' so I told her that a funky chicken wrap served on my previous flight, and a whole whack of turbulence, hadn't really sat well with me, plus I was exhausted so I would be sleeping now.

"Oh my goodness. You have to eat some of my raw granola; it is simply the best and it will provide the comforting nutrients your body needs to heal from all that airplane food."

Then before I knew it a flappy piece of granola (full of seeds and tahini paste) was pushed in my hands. My good old Canadian sensibility kicked in, and I tried a bite. Good grief. After I'd had a small bite, I begged off the rest and closed my eyes in an effort to again communicate I was ready to sleep now.

"I have just returned from the most amazing spiritual retreat in Texas, on a ranch. Lola was our spirit guide, and she's been to India so she knows about spiritualism..."

(Yes, because today India is just one giant Wal-Mart of spiritualism. Go to India, you'll find enlightenment in aisle ten.)

"..and she guided us in our silence. Every day from six in the morning to nine at night we were silent. All our issues came to the forefront, and near the end of the retreat I was laughing deep belly aching laughs for over forty-five minutes. Some of the others in the retreat didn't like this, because I'd dealt with my issues faster than them, and now I was ready to laugh about mine, but Lola told us all it was okay to experience what we needed to experience and to be ourselves..."

"...I am a shaman. I have hiked up (insert name of some mountain I can't remember) and put a spirit stick up there so it radiates peace and love over Kamloops....there are two Buddhist monasteries around Kamloops and all they do all day long is pray for love in our valleys...I am a spirit healer and teach about the raw food movement...Kamloops is the epicentre of spiritual healing because we are in the valley and we have two rivers intersecting...we are a natural wonder..."

"...your journey is upon you, I can see it and you are so close to opening up towards it. You are a flower..."

People, don't get me wrong, she was a very nice lady. She was genuinely concerned that I looked like shit (and I'll be the first to admit, I face was completely drained of colour and that stupid wrap was still rockin' and rollin' in my stomach) and I do not begrudge her of her beliefs or think them ridiculous or small or quaint. She believes what she believes, and she's passionate about it. Shouldn't we all be so lucky. But this conversation was totally boggling my mind as it was such an overwhelming assault of information, and though I have not been removed from North American society for that long, it has still been awhile since I have been pulled into such random interactions.

Add to the fact that when my seat mate got up to use the plane's toilet, the people beside me (who were also perfect strangers...I know because they shook hands and introduced themselves on the plane before my seat mate approached me) were discussing how the man's wife was so moody lately, and so his seat mate decided to impart her knowledge of menopause on this dude, and explain maybe that's why his wife was moody.

I have decided we Canadians are more open and accessible than a high school floozy looking for love in all the wrong places.

It appears we have no boundaries.

Now I'll just have to remember when I get back to Switzerland and I sit down next to the old lady on the bus, that I'll have to refrain from telling her that I just got back from the most amazing Canadian vacation where I stuffed my face everyday with over processed and trans-fatty food, and laughed the most amazing belly aching laughs brought on by all that tequila I'd been shooting in an effort to drown out the noise.

Anyone else out there get sensory overload when they go back home?



Habebi said...

Oh my word YES !! When I got back from Japan I think my coping mechanism was to just try to shut out everyone as much as possible. When I finally did talk with someone they brushed me off as they were too busy flirting and drinking w/another passenger. But it was wild coming back and everything being so understandable. Eventhough I wanted to come back home I did isolate myself a bit just cause I needed to adjust slowly to understanding everything again. Afterall I had been away for nearly a year! It was rough for a bit!

Just relax and make sure to take some time out to decompress. I'm sure though no matter what you'll have a fabulous time!

Melissa Sue said...

Good lord, lady, I think you need a medal or something - yours may be the only "omg i moved to CH" blog I actually, really, enjoy.
Well played.

Caitie said...

Habebi - I can't even imagine the sensory overload coming back from Japan! Even being able to sit down to dinner and not worrying if your dinner is going to swim off your plate must have been crazy ;-) That must have been extreme culture shock.

Melissa Sue - Thanks for the comment! Glad to know you're enjoying it! I have fun writing it.