I went to a group camp for Francophone (French-speaking) social workers in Quebec this weekend, and keep thinking about the Francophone person who comes out and what that means for my Anglo self. We did an exercise where the group stated words that described us and we wrote them on a stone we’d decorated, and someone described me as “reflective” which was so odd a word for someone to use about me. Being the person who has problems that seem to always have problems arising from talking too much or speaking without thinking, I am always jealous of those people who stay still and wait to talk because when they do talk it’s something profound and interesting. I was beyond flattered.
I think about that episode of the Office where the team goes to Florida, and Stanley is trying to convince everyone that “Florida Stanley” is different – he’s fun, he’s wild, you want Florida Stanley at your party. My coworker last week was shocked when I described a training as “fun”… so I think most people would rather have Franco Colleen at their party too. I admit I don’t want to be that fun person all the time because I’m worried I’m not taken seriously.
I’ve discovered that the person I am when I speak French is different than my English self. Part of it, I think, is because when communication is hard you have to by necessity communicate less, at least verbally. This leads to more experiential and physical interactions with other people – using gestures, tone, drawings, or facial expressions a lot more to communicate a point. Another part is the actual words that exist in French to express myself are different in their tone and use than the ones I can use in English, or I have to work my way around a word I don’t know so my language comes out as more flowery, metaphoric, and colorful than my typically blunt English. In a lot of ways I’m more accessible and open in French, and it’s something I wonder how I can incorporate into my everyday self, or if I could.
There’s something very humbling about not being able to communicate well – when you can’t talk or fully understand what’s going on around you, you’re sort of like a little kid and you have to go along with what others want more and just trust that what is happening will work out. We did an exercise where we were leading people around wearing blindfolds, and I struggled when it was my turn to lead others because I couldn’t verbalize everything fast enough for them to not run into things. This is very much the opposite of who I am in regular life – I hate being led by other people and would never touch a group activity weekend like this with a ten-foot pole if it were in English.
It’s an interesting mirror to have, because I enjoy the fact that I am more disciplined than other people, that I’m hardworking, and high-achieving. I used to try so hard to be liked and now I just gave up on that fact and decided to go for what I want and forget about people who don’t like me. I do think that sometimes we can go too far in the opposite direction, so maybe this is a wakeup call for me to be a little more flexible, more relaxed, and allow things to happen rather than always pulling the strings.