>The daily routine celebrated as a huge victory… the new secret to success. …or survival.

7 Aug

A top secret of successful expats! This key to success can be YOURS for JUST three payments of NINE NINETY NINE!…..but WAIT! There’s MORE! What? Yes, MORE! We’ll throw in a SECOND SET of life lessons FREE! ..when you buy now! Only ten minutes left to go folks so place your calls.

Yeah, yeah, they have those informercials here in Guadeloupe too. They’re selling the same stuff as well: miraculous oxegynated cleaner that’s as safe for your laundry and the planet as it is in your spicerack….
Making small victories big ones is free – as long as you don’t count occasionally losing your pride and dignity as a large expense.

When I first arrived in Guadeloupe, I was a shell of my former ‘I’m going to go walk around and meet some people’ self. Now, in fairness this is partially due to the lay of the land. If you don’t live close enough to the beach or the centre commercial to walk there, well, you don’t. But also, I was afraid. Going out meant a lot of non-victories: language unknown, directions unknown, being unable to ask, not being able to communicate with the kids, nevermind command any respect as an adult, etc. These events can trigger anxiety in me remeniscent of my elementary school days when I had a teacher who would turn my desk upside down and shake out all the contents just so I would have to put them back.

Now, months into my expat life, I sometimes feel brave…

The Pirate was working so I took Big Little Monstre and Little Little Monstre in the car to the supermarket. The first question out of Little Little Monstre was about whether or not we had enough gas to get there, after the debacle of my having no euros to buy gas with when we tried to go to the beach the other day. Excellent – the kids are keeping track of my poor planning.

Once at the supermarket, things progressed well. I explained to les monstres that if – IF – they were nice while we were in the store that we could go for something to eat in the restaurant afterwards. Four big eyes and two heads nodded in fast agreement. Even without having kids ‘of my own’ I swiftly learned the art of negotiation, and it’s place in every day life.

Les monstres and I travelled through the store, communicating with my broken French quite well, if I do say so myself, with only the occasional request for sugary items that warranted an immediate ‘non’ which was accepted without challenge. THIS is a victory, I have to say. The very fact that les monstres and I have an exchange – in French – where they ask, I answer, and they accept – wow. That’s deserves a glass of wine right there. I’ll take some red, thank you very much.

Exiting the store is always a point of slight panic for me. What if the check out lady asks me something I don’t understand? What if someone in line asks me something I don’t understand? What if I forgot my shopping bags? (In Guadeloupe, you bring your own reusable bags, or you buy them at checkout, a fantastically eco-friendly system) Actually I had already handled the latter issue on a previous visit, calling upon my limited French to ask for a bag to buy, and the checkout lady understood me and gave me a bag. (victory!) What if one of the petits monstres has a monstre meltdown during the checkout process?

Well, all of these things could happen. This time, though, it’s something new:

“Something something something about a bag, and a code, for this thing here …?” said the check out lady. In very fast French.
“Uh…je ne comprend pas….le probleme c’est quoi?”
I asked what the problem was, and then as my pulse rose and my face flushed I wondered why I invited more French when I already could not understand.

The entire line of customers was looking at us. The check out lady was looking at us. I understood that the soccer balls I picked up for les monstres did not have price tags on them, and I had no idea what she was asking me. Did she want me to go get a price tag? Did she think that I looked at the bar code and I could have recited it? Did she not see the look of an oncoming meltdown with the kids?
For the love of a good red wine, please, I silently begged, call for a price check and stop asking me anything. I don’t have an answer, at least not in French, but you have other employees available to help you with the bar code. In French.
This moment was like an ad for anti-anxiety medication, you know, the kind with side effects that outweigh the benefits? I developed a fish-eyed view of the checkout line.

After saying to me in English, “You don’t speak French?”, to which I replied, in French, “Yes, I do, if you speak slowly I understand.”

The checkout lady got on her store phone and laughed about me to a coworker. That much I understood. Lovely. Eventually they managed to get a price and we paid and we moved to the other counter to pick up a warranty for the blender I chose…..where I managed to have a small conversation en Francais with a complete stranger about how much the blender cost. Small talk in French: victory!

On the way home, les monstres and I had a talk about the restaurant, that the line was too long, and that we would go and see if The Pirate would like to join us at the restaurant, and to put away the food we just bought from the check out lady who talked about me in front of me.

Yeah, well, c’est la vie when you’re learning I guess. So you see, the things I used to do so easily, like food shopping, have now become these moments of sink or swim. I’m happy to say that I do believe I am swimming much more than sinking, which feels good. Errands are still something that I don’t always look forward to, like going to the post office, food shopping, and actually, though it’s not an errand, answering our home phone. Ick.

So the little things become big things, big victories. It might sound sad, but in a situation like this, I’m okay with it. In fact, it’s a neccesity for me to alter my measurement of success: quality, quantity, type, it’s all different now. And it’s nice actually. Allowing yourself small victories with huge celebration can be a good thing. Just don’t start celebrating with a glass of wine and buying a new wardrobe each time you feel victorious, it could get messy.


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