Ignorant and happy

4 Dec

Walking though the endless terminals and sub-terminals of Charles de Gaulle airport during a recent layover, I thought of how comforted I was to hear a familiar language. I knew the ways of the people. I recognized the brands, and the signs, the tone and the newspapers.

The irony of my warm feelings that day is that I never felt that familiarity when I lived in France. I understood perfectly what was going on there and couldn’t hide in my ignorance as I can now.

In Athens, I am complacent in my ignorance of the language and the customs. I love listening to the animated, foreign sounds, with the “s” sound so pronounced, somewhere between “SSS” and “ssshhh”. It’s a bit like Spanish but still exotic enough to soothe my ears.

At first, I surprised myself by not trying to learn more, not being more curious to decipher the words and expressions. Nevertheless, some of it happens naturally and with little effort on my part.

I love the respite in not always feeling compelled to get involved. I delight in being able to shrug off potentially uncomfortable situations with “I don’t speak Greek”, such as when Amitai made another kid cry at the park.

It’s a relief after several stints of intense language-learning and much misunderstanding about nuances.

In Israel, I am so hyper-involved in everything and try so hard to show that I have mastered the language.

My self-imposed ignorance in Greece (not making any effort to learn the language) is a sweet pleasure I allow myself to indulge in.

The other day, we squashed ourselves into the elevator in a metro station (with Amitai in his stroller). We were about eight people (not all of us slim!) in a tiny cell, and another young woman had tried to elbow her way in. The people around us started shouting, waving their hands, spit flailing all around. Looking at us, “can you believe her? Who does she think she is?” At one point, they wanted me to get out but then they understood I was with the stroller. “Only pensioners allowed!” was the little Aharon could decipher as the doors shut and we held our breath.

In Israel, I would have felt compelled to take sides, would wonder whether I said the right thing. Did I give off the right amount of tough and fairness? Did I make any grammar mistakes?

What a pleasure to shrug this incident off, to be naive and clueless. This in itself allows me to convince myself that I am truly on vacation. If I don’t learn the language, I won’t settle in, and start to feel like I belong. Because I don’t want to belong. This is temporary.

Maybe the key to happiness is ignorance. Though on the outside it seems I am denying myself the comfort of living more easily here, the opposite is true.

Comfort, then, only comes in extremes: when you’re either blissfully unaware or completely comfortable in a place.




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