Friday, February 08, 2008

Smile and Nod

Smiling and nodding. Can I tell you how tired I am of it? Before I came to Switzerland, I used the good ole smile and nod on various occasions—when I didn’t like what someone said but the person was of authority or someone you wouldn’t want to offend. Or to speed along a conversation that I didn’t want to continue. But I never used it to the extent and reason I do now—because I don’t understand what’s being said around me.

Now don't get me wrong. I want people to speak German to me. I want to learn German. But some days it's just really hard. You just want to feel normal again. And smile when something is funny or cute. Grimace when it's gross. Frown when it's mean. But as an expat, I have two main expressions: a blank stare. Or a smile and nod. And I'd really like to retire both.

For instance, it’s a very weird situation to be hanging out on a snack break in the company kitchen but barely understand a word about what’s being discussed. There are various strategies for this situation, such as smile and nod, look out the window, keep stuffing your face, drink enough beer until you don’t care, or a good combination of the bunch, but all are somehow weird. The fact that I’ve taken German for a year and a half only makes matters worse as I feel like I should be able to contribute something in a German conversation. And I really want to. But when 3 native speakers get going fast and are most likely using slang and Swiss German besides, I don’t stand a chance. And I feel like an idiot. Not to mention very lonely.

It’s not like I always felt comfortable in all situations in the U.S. But here, it takes much more courage and endurance to get through a day. Before I step outside the apartment I take a deep breath—one so I can hold it as I walk past the smokers on my step, and two to give me power to get through the day. Because after a day of smiling and nodding, sometimes all that's left are tears.

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