It’s over… for now

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(A wedding in Surgeres… Thinking of you, Linda and Paul!)

We’re sitting on the ferry hearing Irish voices for the first time in a long time. Mostly they sound kinda nice, friendly, sing-songy, ordinary, gentle too. I was getting used to missing eavesdropping. Now that’s back I’m overwhelmed by the input. I had forgotten there was so much more information than just the words. Consider the eyebrow movement your mother used when she said, “How much?” If she added a certain head tilt you knew you were in big trouble. (Did you hear the tone when you read that two-word question?)

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(Narrow street in Nantes)

Every day we make additions to the meaning of the words we hear depending on tone and body language. The people talking to us make additions to the words they hear us say. If we’re really lucky we make the right additions and they make the right additions and we understand each other. Communication is something we take for granted and we usually think the words we say are clear and that of course the person we’re talking to will understand exactly what we mean… but what if they don’t? If they don’t it gets a bit messy.

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(Passageway in Chateau Comtel, Carcassonne)

Spending time in a country where I assume I will not understand the people has made me more aware of the possibility that I don’t understand the people in my own country, speaking the language I’m fluent in…. One day last week in Nantes Denis needed to visit the mobile phone shop, Orange. If you’ve ever had to go into a mobile phone shop in any country you’ll have had a similar experience. It’s very slow, there’s lots of queuing. The handshake when the assistant brings you to his workstation is particularly French (and lovely) but the rest is very similar.

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(My favourite dishwasher!)

Anyway, I was sitting on an orange (kid you not!) sofa in the Orange shop waiting for him when an older, very well dressed lady sat down beside me. We did the bonjour/bonjour and she said a few more words and I… smiled and nodded (probably appropriate?) but then she said something else and I just knew it was a question. She was looking at me and waiting. For a very short moment I considered more smiling and more nodding but for the first time in France (with a French person) I recognised connection. You know the moment when you trust that the person (whom you don’t know) in front of you is safe? Is worth taking the time to communicate with. Not a huge communication, not deep and meaningful words… yet you somehow connect.

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(Sunset in Asserac)

So, I didn’t just smile and nod, Instead I searched deep into my faulty French and said I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I speak only a little French. Her eyes lit up, she laughed, she took my hand, she gently patted my arm and she said something. I have no idea what she said, yet I know exactly what she said…. she told me it was ok, she told me I was ok, she told me everything was fine. Then she asked me what language I spoke and she told me she didn’t know any of that either. All the time she held my hand and patted my arm and we both smiled. Then the assistant called her name and she left to get her phone fixed.

Maybe we say too many words when all we really need to do is connect, Mairead.

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