Fish Out of Water

Lately I've been feeling a little blue on Tuesdays. Coco and I go to Baby Swimming on Tuesday mornings. Don't get me wrong, it's really fun and so amazing to be in the water with her. She looks very sweet in her swim diaper and she coos and giggles at me in the warm water. In our class are five other mommies and babies the same age as Coco. That's what has me feeling blue. 

All the other mommies know the songs and can sing to their smiling babies. I don't know the songs because I didn't grow up with them. So I hum along as best I can, but on occasion, Coco would rather look at an actually singing mommy, or the jolly singing instructor, rather than me. :( During the class all the other mommies joke and laugh with each other. I just focus on Coco, which is lovely, of course, but I do feel left out. In the locker room after class when we're all dressing and nursing our babies, it's the same. I understand snippets here and there of the conversation going on and I'd love to join in talking about whether or not my baby will take a bottle (she won't!) or about how torn I feel about returning to work in the Spring (I'm losing sleep!) but my German is nonexistent outside of ordering food in a restaurant. 

It leaves me feeling a little blue because it reminds me that although this is the most settled and grounded I've felt in my adult life, I'm an outsider. I don't belong here. It's a rather strange paradox. It also makes me look at life at home differently. In the future, when I'm living in American again, I don't think I'll ever be shy again. Suddenly it seems that when others speak your language, you're automatically on the inside. I wonder if that will change for me after being back in the States for a while. I also wonder how long we'll end up living here.

Have you ever lived in a place where you didn't speak the local language? Did you learn it?

{photo from here}


  1. dear lindsey
    reading this post made me feel sad. it must be so hard to raise a child in a foreign country, without your family and friends.
    but it's also such a good opportunity to get to know a different culture, to find new friends, to get to know yourself better, to open your mind and perhaps to value the things more you had or have 'at home'.
    personally I think it's vital to learn the language to understand a country and feel at home.
    it needs a lot of energy to approach new people and to look after a baby at the same time :-) I hope you enjoy your time here and don't feel blue too frequently!!
    and it reminds me again of being even more welcoming and helpful to foreign people :-)

  2. We're doing a swim class in SF and I must say that it's nice to be able to understand all the songs/instructions and make small talk with the other mommies. That said, Zurich is so great for having a baby, and I really miss being expat and all the awesome expat mommies =).

  3. I just found your blog from the names post on sharon's "what nyc taught me" because my name is LindsAy too ! (I know you're -Ey)
    I used to live in Switzerland, and when I first moved there (in Ticino) I didn't speak one word of Italian. By the end, I could get around town, on the bus, go out, and talk with people, but I missed exchanging "niceties" at the supermarket or randomly chatting with people while waiting for the bus. I was always worrying about my conjugations :)
    However, I am pretty fluent in French, so I could always fall back on that. Swiss German is pretty hard for me to understand and I think it would take me a long time to be at the friendly chatting level. I've always wanted to live in Zurich one day, but this is the exact situation that prevents me from really seeking it out. I remember how it felt to spend four years of my life without really connecting to those around me. Now that I'm back in the states, I'm much more chatty than I used to be, and I am so fearless about traveling to unknown spots because even if I get lost- everyone speaks English!
    However, I still miss Switzerland like mad. My friend and I were just today mourning our old lives there :(

  4. That's amazing! So glad you found me. <3 I love Ticino because it's so much more lively than the German speaking part of Switzerland. But I love the organization here, so I can't complain. I understand everything you're saying! I also speak French, which helps if I need to call Bern, but not much else in Zurich. Living abroad is a funny thing. I think we'll be here five more years. But once Coco is ready for first grade, I definitely want to be back home. It makes me think of Jumpha Lahiri stories and how in one the Indian mother looks at her American born and raised children and says, "I feel like I gave birth to strangers!" At some point that would be a reality... Interesteing to think about from the other side.

    1. Yes! I felt that way a bit with my parents each time I visited home for Christmas. (Now that I'm living at home again we've settled more). I was their American born-and-raised child who was living across the ocean and traveling around the world, while neither of them went to Europe until their honeymoon. I speak 3 languages (and understand 2 others) while they only speak 1. It's hard to reconcile these differences sometimes, because they have such profound affects on your life and how you view the world around you.

      Before I moved to Ticino I was a nanny for a French family in my neighborhood here. As the children started school and began learning English and playing with their classmates, their father would get frustrated that his children were becoming "too American", losing whatever mysterious element it was that made them "French children". And I thought to myself- but isn't that why you're raising your children here? For this experience? To live in America and learn English while you and your wife gain valuable experience in your careers? I think it's a shock when your child's life doesn't emulate your own, even though you know it's fate.
      Sorry I rambled a bit, but I love thinking about these sorts of things and your comment got me on a roll!


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