Monday, July 3, 2006

Sensory overload

In just a few weeks N. and I will board a plane (together, finally) and cross the big blue to eventually land in America. This will be my first trip back to the States since leaving in early 2005. We'll visit my Mom and Dad both, and in order to do that will have to hit both Kansas and Arizona in July of all months.

Of course I'm really looking forward to seeing my Mom and Pop, but I really miss my brothers and sisters... I have two of each. I'm looking forward to seeing my whole close family while there. When in Wichita we also plan to meet up with as many of my old buddies as we can. This is one thing I've really missed about my old home.

However, as much as I would like to see my family, I must admit that the idea of visiting America after all this time does have me a little anxious. In fact, ironically enough, of all things that a visit to America makes me consider, it is the language that I think about the most. During the time that I have spent in Germany I have gone from wistfully daydreaming about returning to a place where everyone understands me and I understand them to fearing a sensory overload when I am confronted with my native language everywhere I go.

Though German no longer really sounds or looks like a totally foreign language to me, the fact of the matter is that it is a foreign language and always will be. It is true that I have finally learned enough German to understand most of what is happening around me, but it has been a long time since I was able to flawlessly understand everything and as a result, I find it surprisingly easy to filter things out. Of course, this sporadic language oblivion has been known to cause problems; especially when I happen to miss the most mundane of announcements because I wasn't properly paying attention, but in general I am satisfied if I understand 50f what I see or hear.

Now you might wonder what the big deal is about my ability to tune German out. After all, people do that in their native languages all the time: There is so much random information floating around at anytime that one must have the ability to filter information in order to cope with daily life. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that point.

However, I have discovered that while living in Germany, I have developed some sort of "English antenna" that has turned picking up an English conversation or spotting an English-language newspaper or book from an interesting anomaly into something of an obsession for me. As soon as I spot someone speaking or reading English, I am completely absorbed by it: It doesn't matter if they are talking about what they had for breakfast or reading the sports page of USA Today, I just have to eavesdrop.

I don't know why either. It would be different if I was starved for English, but thanks to the Internet and the fact that N. and I speak English together, I simply have no excuse for this peculiarity. Out of politeness I try to ignore English when I see or hear it, but for some unknown reason I just can't seem to pull myself away from it.

Therefore, I wonder if upon returning to America, I will be able to once again filter out things in English that I technically have no interest in. If I can't, I fear that I might go mad!

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