Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living in the quiet zone

OK, so maybe my world is not all that quiet, per se, but I don’t really engage with the ambient noise around me. I do not “overhear” others’ conversations. You could say I’m living in my own private Idaho.

Since I’m not quite there yet with the language, having people chatting near me on the bus is not really a distraction. Although if someone is using their outside voice while on a cell phone I get annoyed all the same.

I don’t listen in while the person in front of me chats with the grocery store checkout worker. I rarely have to engage (beyond a sympathetic smile) in the frustration expressed by others in a slow bank line. And I can always plead ignorance when a party conversation turns boring and I start to drift. 

I am grateful for this reality on days like today when the television is chatting endlessly about very provocative news events.  It all passes me by, unless I choose to engage.

I’ve really had to get comfortable with the sound of my own inner voice. I am with whom I converse most. When not ruminating on my own I usually have a pair of ear buds in my ears and am listening to an American liberal news podcast of some sort.

I’m pretty much on my own.

Sure I could listen to Portuguese lesson podcasts, or carry my Portuguese dictionary and try to decipher what is going on around me. Been there. Done that. Exhausted.

No thanks – I enjoy my own company, and I enjoy not having to be a part of (if only clandestinely) every conversation around me.

There are definitely days when I overhear a conversation and think – “Wait, I understood that.” But then I usually turn up my iPod.


Rachel said...

Me is the best company. We like all the same books, movies, and restaurants ;)

Linds said...

This is so great Jim. Totally how I feel too. I said to Ro the other day that when I start interacting with someone else in English, I really have to try not to talk about "self analysis" stuff because it's the majority of what I am thinking about daily. You know what I mean? Just that inner reflection of all of your surroundings day in day out, all the time with yourself?

My SIL asked me the other night (we were all playing Uno and the tv was on behind us) if I understood the jokes of the tv show that was on. I said, "honestly? I"m not even listening because I am 100% focused on listening to THIS conversation between the people here" This ability to multitask listen, to have the tv on as background noise that you can listen to at the same time as the foreground noise, it just doesn't happen anymore! Not when one activity takes up ALL of your attention and focus.

It is a good excuse though, you're right, when you just don't feel like participating anymore. Exhausting!

Anita said...

You turned Portuguese into "irrelevant background sound". This happens a lot with expats and it is okay - up to a certain point. There was a moment in my life many years ago that I used to leave my work (where I worked in Fr/Spanish) and went to the bus stop - I always ignored anything in Dutch around me. Music, messages from loudspeakers at train stations, questions from cashiers at shops, coaches at the gym, I would ignore even people calling me directly. I became deaf to any Dutch sound. I decided to correct it and focus my attention on the Dutch language. It paid millions back !

Jim said...

Anita - you are of course absolutely right, and I look forward to when I am better at Portuguese.

I am not so much blocking out Portuguese, just not always straining to understand everything said around me.