Deliberate Discomfort


Back home I know everything. Truly. Everything! I know my running routes, what I like for breakfast, and the best coffee in my neighborhood. I know that I like soy milk in my coffee and how to ask for it. I know when to tip and exactly how much. I know where I am and where I’m going, and how to get there.  I know that if I see dog poop on the sidewalk that it is a major infraction of social etiquette and that I have the right to be annoyed and disgusted.

Figuring out the metro

Now I know nothing. Or very little anyway. My social comforts have all been turned upside down. I’m not sure when I have the right of way vs the car or motorcycle. I don’t understand why nobody picks up after their dogs here. I’m constantly lost, and as I try to find the directions on my map, I can’t seem to hold these foreign names in my head for more than two seconds. The metro directions rarely say what I expect them to. I ordered a sandwich vegetal (vegetarian sandwich, right?) and it was tuna. I’m certain I’ve tipped when I shouldn’t have, tipped far too much or too little when I was right to tip, and not tipped when I should have. I don’t know what I’m eating, or what that crunch just was? I don’t see people running so I don’t know, do people not run in Spain?

This is the beauty of travel, and my chosen state for the next four months. Every time I get where I want to go, successfully do what I want to do, or eat what I want to eat, it is a major achievement. On my second day here I even managed to have an entire conversation without English! It went like this:

Me: Un espresso por favor.
Him: (something in Spanish) aqui (here)?
Me: Si
I drink my coffee.
Me: Cuanto quesa? (How much is it?)

Him: (something in Spanish.)
I have no idea so I give him five euros.
He gives me my change
Me: Gracias!
Him: De nada. Adios!
Me: Adios!

It was a beautiful thing!

Nothing here is normal to me yet, but I’m learning some wonderful aspects of the Spanish, or is it European?, culture. For example, I couldn’t understand the system for cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians, as everyone was everywhere! Chaos! But then I realized the beauty of it – nobody seems to feel that they have more of a right to be somewhere than anyone else. In my six days in Barcelona I did not see one frustrated driver, not one exasperated cyclist, not one clueless pedestrian walking into the street with their head in their phone. Everyone seems quite happy to make their way around everyone else. It was so pleasant, and a reminder that different is often not a bad thing.

Now I’m in Uzes, where nobody speaks English, no signs are in English, and there are no British or American tourists. I don’t speak a word of French other than “merci” and “bonjour”, and it is intimidating to say the least. But I still managed to order a croissant this morning thanks to the international signs of pointing, and I found a stunningly beautiful running route through MapMyRun. Our resources are everywhere.

All it really takes is putting the discomfort aside, and knowing that things can be figured out easily enough. What’s the worst that can happen? Not much. Eyes open, and we will always find our way. 


7 thoughts on “Deliberate Discomfort”

  1. So nice of you to share your adventures with the rest of us! Your writing and observations are beautiful. I remember Uzes… Please let me know if you have any questions about that area. Perhaps you’d like to stay with my mother-in-law in Aix for a night?

    1. Hi Elizabeth – great to hear from you, and thank you so much for the kind words! Uzes is stunning, I absolutely love it. Rather quiet, not much to do but walk around and enjoy it and relax. And eat. Oh how I am enjoying that! If there is anything you highly recommend, especially restaurants, let me know. So far they’ve all been great! Thanks for the offer for a stay with the mother-in-law, but I’ve got a gorgeous Airbnb here in Uzes and another good (and cheap) one lined up for Avignon. Have you been there as well? Again, if you have recommendations, let me know. I’m sort of winging this part of the trip.

  2. Great blog post! Anyone who travels abroad can relate and should feel low your example on embracing the discomfort.

  3. Karen, your brother Chris is a dear friend and colleague. I’m so glad he’s posting your travel log. As a Willa Cather devotee, I hope you know her connection with Avignon. She was working on a novel set there when she died. I know Chris and Vicki went to Avignon with a Cather group in 2007, so they have no doubt schooled you in the connection. I believe the text of the only preserved portion of that unfinished novel would be available through their friend Andy Jewell at UNL. If not, I can probably unearth it in my files and email it to you. You will love the partial bridge there, where everyone dances instead of crossing the river. Try to get someone to sing the famous song about it to you, taught in every high school French class in the U.S.! I look forward to reading all your journeys. I’ve traveled twice through Europe by train, thirty years apart, never as leisurely as you are doing, so I will be following along with great interest and nostalgia.

    1. Hi Betty – thank you for your comments! I am off to Avignon next, and did not know the Willa Cather connection. I do know Andy Jewell well so will ask him about it. I’ll have my Uzes and Avignon posts up soon. I hope you like them!

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