I traveled to Cornwall, ON, for the weekend to visit the husband, where they speak English. It was immediately striking how strange this felt to me. It is interesting and a bit odd to learn how quickly the alien has become the ordinary and expected. I lived in the U.S. for all of my 32 years, and I lived in Quebec for just one month before I left to visit Ontario. I found that, in one short month, it has become totally normal (while still being off-putting and isolating) to view passing cars and assume that no one in them speaks my language. It has become routine for me to carefully inventory my (very limited!) French vocabulary when I am in line at the grocery store or have other reason to try to communicate with a stranger. I mentally prepare myself for even the most basic of interactions (the only type of which I’m at all capable), and it seems quite normal to do this. The strange things now are to interact easily with others, to overhear strangers’ conversations and understand them, to be able to read all of the words on a menu.
It was a bizarre realization to find that the formerly normal is the strange, that the mundane is what requires adjustment. I thought “scusez” instead of “excuse me” when I had to squeeze past a stranger in the Cornwall Wal-Mart. I thought “merci” instead of “thank you” when a waitress delivered my food. It is now weird to look at the people around me and know I can communicate effortlessly with any one of them, just as it is weird for me to realize that I’ve grown so very used to and accepting of the default assumption that I cannot communicate with any of the people I encounter.
It was a good weekend. It was wonderful to spend time with the man I love enough to leave the only life I’ve ever known to continue to share a life with him. It was great to meet some of his friends and classmates down in Ontario and to have life made loud with the sharing of stories and laughter. Life was a little bit larger again for the weekend. It was also very eye-opening to see how much my expectations have changed as I adapt to my new life in Quebec. While I know the quiet of my small life in Saguenay is likely to be a bit more stifling after a more social weekend, I also know that I’ve come farther than I realized in adjusting to the new challenges I face. I’ve become more comfortable very quickly with the strangeness of life with a language barrier and without a lot of structure, connections, or responsibilities. I’ve already made a lot of progress without noticing I was doing anything at all, and that’s a pretty encouraging fact to learn.