He ain't green for nothin'.
I know this guy, a fellow expat, called Kito. (You may remember him as the man responsible for the Dirty Knife Allegory.) We talk a lot via Gchat because we're the only two somewhat-close friends from the Bay Area that happens to be sharing a time zone.
In January, when I arrived in Paris, I went through this three-day stint where I was scared shitless of doing simple things like going to the grocery store or reciprocating streetside Bonjours. On one of those days I was sitting in a cyber café, hungry as hell, talking to Kito, and I asked how he felt about his language situation.
At that point, he'd been working in Germany about six months.
"It's not where I hoped it would be," he said. "Today on the bus I saw these kids speaking German. And I hated them."
The thought of him sitting on a bus, gnashing his teeth at the sight of prattling children, stuck with me. I wondered whether I'd ever have a moment like that: when the sight of kids speaking French in ways I can't would fill me with insufferable envy.
It happened yesterday. I was sitting in a park in Montmartre, struggling with a French novel, when a shriek made me raise my eyes to the playground.
There's this kid all crumpled up on the jungle gym, crying about god-knows-what. His brother runs over to get the sitch, and the little weeper expounds on his grievances with a fluency and an eloquence I can't begin to muster.
The green-eyed angst rose inside me, thick and heady.
It's not just the want that eats you; it's the irrational desire to defend yourself to someone, to stand up and shout, "I am that competent -- charming, even! Far away from here, in a country I left, PEOPLE DON'T STRUGGLE TO TALK TO ME. I can call telephone companies, navigate discussion from the weather to work, soothe sobbing children, and make subtle jokes -- all with grace and ease."
Then I had the dilemma that an expat is always vaguely aware is coming, but tries to avoid with the optimism of fresh perspective, months before falling facedown into it: could I live with myself if I returned to a place where I'm less happy -- just because small-talk doesn't present a struggle?
Or am I equal to the challenge of staying in a country where, however much I integrate, however much I learn, I will never be a native?