When Sophie asked me to introduce myself in French on my first day in Montpellier, I was a stumbling, halting mess.
Then Severine asked me to introduce myself to our class. And Maud did the same. Then this week our new teachers Fanny and Louise did, too. The last time was the least stumbling, the least halting, the least messy. My sentences were clearer. Connecting phrases, noticeably absent before, have started cropping up to make my ideas a little less rigid and formulaic (though still by no means creative).
Because of the nature of the school here, everyone is on different timelines. I’m here for three weeks. Some classmates are here for nine months. Friendships begin over lunch, dinner and drinks. Going-away celebrations happen weekly. These ever-changing groups mean lots of introductions, and plenty of people now know this TV producer from LA who is here to learn about the language and about cooking. In turn, I’ve met the Saudi Arabian doctor, the Colombian masters candidate, the Swiss nursing student, the Pasadena gap year teen.
Here are a few facts about me. What are a few facts about you?
This regular exchange reminds me of the Monday morning routine at home where we share with coworkers and friends how are weekends went. Instead of introducing our fundamental elements, we pick and choose which ornamental pieces of our personality to share. From those pieces, people add to their understanding of us.
Repetiton is how we learn a language. It’s also how we begin to understand each other.
You have a window each time you respond to the question to share a thing or two, so by necessity, you cherry pick. Of the wedding cake you baked and the heavy metal concert you raged at, you might just detail the cake-baking process, then ask about their weekend. Then, the next week, your more attentive friends will follow up on your most recent baking adventure, and so it goes.
You can shape your narrative. You can obscure it. You can compartmentalize what you share and with who.
No matter how loudly you talk about your new trail, it’s hard to fully cover up the tracks you’ve already laid. Despite my hereditary love of pie, a few weeks of cake-baking two years ago still have my coworkers sharing their own cake adventures, and expressing their shock when I pass on the monthly office birthday cakes. Slowly, but surely, I am letting people know where my true pasty passion Is.
So while meeting new people requires introductions, any time away gives you an opportunity to reintroduce yourself, and change how you want to be known. Even a weekend.