Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.
When I came to Buenos Aires I had Sesame Street Spanish: hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, count from one to ten. Establishing yourself in a foreign country with little means of communicating is exhausting – language is everything! Three weeks have passed now and words are starting to sound more familiar. I felt triumph one day from an incredibly banal exchange at the grocery store:
Clerk: Would you like bags?
Me: No, thank you.
Clerk: Your total is 200 pesos.
I hand her my credit card
Clerk: Can I see ID?
I hand her my ID
Clerk: What is your nationality?
Me: I am from the United States.
Being abroad reminds me that I take the ability to verbally communicate for granted, like how having a head cold always makes one suddenly appreciate taste and smell. What you don’t have you want, and I want to talk to people!
The master papermaker had to leave last week for the western province of Mendoza where he is consulting a prison on a handmade paper workshop they are setting up for prisoners. With my boss gone I decided to enroll in a week-long language course at a school fifteen minutes walk from my apartment. Mentally exhausting but 100% worth it, the 20 hours of language instruction established a base for me to work from and bolstered my confidence. I also learned how to say ‘I am a papermaker.’
Teacher: Cuál es tu profesión? What is your profession?
Me: Yo soy fabrikante de papel. I am a papermaker.
Teacher: I’ve never heard this before!
Me: I get that response in my country, too.
I have to remind myself to be patient, that I’ve only been here three weeks and can’t expect to speak fluently yet. A little each day and practice. Living abroad is different from vacationing abroad. Vacationing is a temporary step outside of your environment, where things are new and exciting. Living abroad is new and exciting but also daunting. While establishing daily routine and trying to get your needs met you run into culture shock and a natural inclination to withdraw into the familiar.
I remember this from when I was an exchange student to Germany. In the first months I didn’t want to go out at all. I wanted to stay home and read books in English, call and write my friends and complain about not being able to find peanut butter. After a while, 16 year-old Genevieve realized that isolation wasn’t going to result in a satisfying exchange experience. No use being a little US island floating around your host country’s sea. This is cultural immersion – you’ve got to jump in and make a fool of yourself, day after day after day…it’s good for the ego. It’s a step outside oneself.
Now I’m back to work again, making a fool of myself at the paper mill. In the room next to the mill is a bookbinding studio where six bookbinders are currently making the covers and boxes for a special edition book, 2000 copies in total! In my first week I could say hello. This week I could tell one of them that his haircut looked good. I asked another to help me with the press. Their conversation throughout the day sounds less and less like white noise. I can pick out words here and there. Like my boss says, I’ll be speaking Spanish just in time to go home!
I’m creating flash cards with paperkmaking terms in Spanish that I’ll be sharing on the blog. Hopefully others will find them useful in their work! You can download the first one here: Papermaking Terms Main Equipment.