As I sit waiting for a certain redhead to arrive, I can't help but think of the first time I came to France many months ago. What comes to mind is a sad, pathetic image of a boy who was, and is, happy to be the sole member of his audience that somber day. I think I first realized what I had gotten myself into while waiting for my flight to Paris. I was sitting in the international terminal of the Atlanta airport, and, suddenly, everything changed. People, language, dress, and my comfortability began to shed its american skin. I can remember taking great strength from my biography of George Washington. Could there be a better model for strength and courage when you begin to doubt yourself than Washington? George was my cocoon, my shield from what was changing in front of me, as I moved further and further into a world I struggled so painfully not to enter. I always told myself I accepted everything, could adapt myself comfortably, and pleasantly, to what was different and unknown. But, I didn't know what I would come to feel. In truth, when put to the test, I became, and was for a long time, the exact opposite of what I had once thought I was capable of. When it came time to put up or shut up, I shut up and wondered why I had put myself in the position where choosing to put up was a necessity. Difference and the unknown are much easier to confront and experience when seen on a television screen or through the pages of a book. I wish I had known this at the time, it might have changed my pathetic appearance. But, how was I to know? Who, what would have prepared me properly? When the world shakes you up a little, I have noticed, it's not so bad.
The international terminal put me in the international world. The Air France flight to Paris put me in the world of the french. I can remember not being able to understand the flight attendants as they spoke french over the intercom. My incomprehension led to what I would consider my longest, most pathetic cram session of my life. I dove deeply into every french grammar book and learning CD I owned, in the vain and unrealistic hope of making myself fluent by the time I reached Montpellier. For once, french was spoken without an english word or phrase after it, and I realized how little I knew. The flight attendant, who seemed to be one of those intellectual types who fit the mold of an intellectual because they try to look and talk like one, made a joke I didn't get. The joke had to do with my studying, a "you are doing a so-and-so" type of joke. Whatever it was, it fell flat with me. I can remember his response. He patted me on the back, looked at me with sorrowful eyes for my lack of intellectuality and said "nevermind." It might seem trivial, but, when uncertain of your own capabilities to the point I was, any slight rebuke makes your whole world seem more ominous and ill-fitting. So, not only was the language problem first surfacing, but I also felt that someone such as myself was not fit for this experience. Whatever it took to be international, I didn't have it. I was a kid from Kentucky who had a dream once and should have left it at that. When it came down to it, I thought I was of the wrong mold, that the place for me was with the same people, in the same city, in a world of custom and the common.
Three things repetitively crossed my mind when I reached the airport in Paris. First, this place is depressing. I find it interesting, from coming and going to France a few times now, how ugly and depressing the terminals are when you arrive, and how beautiful, clean and pleasant the terminals are when you leave, at least that is the case in Paris. The only reason I can fathom is, once they have you in their country, there is no longer a need to mesmerize you with luxury and pageantry. Once you've arrived, you are stuck as a purchaser in a foreign land, and their work, getting you to that point, is done. When leaving, it's simple. They want your business to come back, and a nice memory of your last hour-and-a-half in France helps this cause. Now that that's over, my second thought was, "oh shiza (used different word, which is far less poetic, but
I don't want Mom to see me cuss)! What have I gotten myself into?" My world was spinning as I passed the morning work crews and bright advertisements, written in french, for french companies. I couldn't understand anything at the Customs' station and got lost looking for my terminal. In the plane, my introduction was blunted, but, when I reached Paris, it came at me in full volume. Before, despite the lack of confidence, I took comfort from the situation still being in the future. As far as I knew, miracles were possible, maybe I would receive one. However, as I tried to answer the customs officers' questions about what was in my bag, my situation was in my midst, there was no more time to ask myself if I would be alright. My third thought arose from the second. Once I cleared all official areas, I stopped caring. Whatever happened, happened. If I was to fail myself or surprise myself and do well, I no longer cared. Perhaps, it was the lack of sleep, but I stopped foreshadowing and worrying. I was there, I wasn't happy about it, yet the moment became more important and irrelevant to what I had once thought and predicted. My last memory of the flights was seeing the monuments as I flew above Paris. The crazy blank-mindedness was to only grow with time, but the serenity and beauty of the moment made me realize how lucky I was to be in such a special situation.