People have always found it tricky to place where I’m from. There have been many times when people have spoken to me in French or Spanish or Portuguese, thinking I am one of them. But no, all I can do is smile and try to hide my blank expression. Who knows how many friends I could have made if we’d just understood each other.
The only language I speak fairly well, apart from English, is Norwegian. Of all the languages in the world to learn, I chose the one that only five million people speak. In terms of random languages to learn, Norwegian is pretty much up there. I thought I’d be able to pick up another language fairly easily, after all I’ve done it once before, but it seems that the bit of my brain responsible for learning languages is full. German goes in, and then about a minute later it’s gone again.
There was a sense that I wasn’t really myself when I lived life in Norwegian. I was always a moment behind everyone else in a conversation, my personality hidden. Now I find myself here again. I’ve lived in a non-English speaking country for almost eight years, that’s quite a long time to not really be myself. I’m just hoping that I’m still there somewhere.
I sometimes feel like my life isn’t real and I’m living a pretend foreign version. I get letters addressed to Frau, and I have to check they haven’t been put in the wrong post box by mistake. Because when letters arrive for someone I don’t recognise, and in a language I don’t understand, it’s like they’re not meant for me. When I get bills I convert the amount to Australian dollars and then to British pounds. Even money doesn’t seem real anymore. This is clearly not the best way to approach adult life.
I do feel guilty about living in Switzerland and not speaking the language. I can manage simple sentences, in the present tense, but that’s about it. So to avoid situations where I either feel bad for not speaking German, or annoyed because I don’t know what someone is saying to me, I tend to just stay at home. For someone living a nomadic life, I’m actually a bit of a hermit.