The past few weeks I have been taking intensive language lessons. One of the modules was a 2 week oral communication course with six students. I only knew one of the students but the rest I met the first day of class.
During the first day I noticed one of the students didn’t look me in the eye. She seemed not to notice I was there or when I spoke in class she seemed to not listen to what I had to say. The lack of recognition of being was a repressed emotion that had recently surfaced for me and I was a tune to it and more sensitive to feeling it. The week continued and each day for 4 hours she did not seem to acknowledge my existence in any verbal or non-verbal way. This was more apparent as others did not behave this way towards me.
It bothered me and I wanted to easily say to myself – she has N tendencies. I know better – stay away. I couldn’t help it. I had to learn more (but actually I believe this was my natural attraction). And in a way, I was relieved about making the decision to find out more for myself. There could be a million and one reasons and she could actually be someone who does not have these tendencies.
By the last day of the intense module we all decided to go out for coffee. A way of celebrating the fact that our brains did not explode from speaking a foreign language for 4 hours straight for 5 days.
During the class (before we went out for coffee), Alba (woman who did not acknowledge me) had to give her presentation that day on a topic of her choosing. She chose Hugo Chavez. She presented on him and then turned the discussion to us. She didn’t ask any questions and so I stated my opinion on him and his presidency. A few responded and a few declined commenting because they did not have enough information to share any opinions on it.
During the coffee outing, Alba states ‘I wanted to raise the level of discussion in our class by choosing this topic and no one could participate because they didn’t know international issues.’ This I found insulting and attackful. I noticed that all of us let her comment go. I don’t know why but I gathered she was feeling shameful about her ability to speak (she struggles orally in comparison). Plus, I heard her fishing for compliments during our class breaks. Our discussion continued to Americans and language in general. Alba (who is Irish btw) brought up the point that Americans ask ‘how are you?’ but don’t wait for a response. She pointed out that this behaviour is superficial and that Americans don’t really care how the other person is.
Since I have been living in Europe for 7 years I have heard this, I don’t know, about 1 million times. It gets old. When people started saying this to me I ignored it. Thinking, well each person has their own opinion. However, even this has changed for me. I now address it. My response now:
It is not out of superficiality that Americans say ‘How are you?’ and don’t expect a response; it is an evolution of the language in the country; when I say ‘How are you?’ to a fellow American I don’t expect a response, it is a way of saying Hello for me. We use ‘how are ya?’ as Hello. When I want to find out the state or feeling of a person I either ask again or in a different way. As we are learning in French, there is the standard use of the language and the way people actually use the language.
The Austrian in the group responded to this ‘Exactly’. It was nice to hear because I felt this was putting myself and how I feel out there. It was an insult to me and my fellow Americans to equate a characteristic of superficiality with one phrase that has evolved over the years. Whether deemed insignificant or not, her behaviour was an act of cruelty.
She continued to say things about Americans and other nationalities that I was not happy with it. I walked away knowing I will not spend any more time on her. She behaves narcissistically and I know my answer. Don’t go there.
And guess what, she continued the module that I am taking this week. At the beginning of the module the professor said to me after I spoke a bit that she has seen a good level of improvement from me orally in the language. Since, ya know, I’m in recovery I forced myself to just take the compliment and enjoy it. 🙂
And you guessed it, Alba and I were waiting for the elevator together at the end of class. She managed in the 1 minute we were waiting to bring up the compliment and make me feel bad about it (‘well look at you, you don’t have problems with the language, the prof said you speak well). But, here’s the thing, I changed how I behaved. I said to her, ‘we all have struggles in the language – for some that is orally and others it is grammar; for me, I struggle with writing the language and each person struggles in their own way.’ She responds, ‘well, I’m great at writing.’
That moment was a breakthrough. If I hadn’t gotten to know her and decide for myself that getting to know her was something I wasn’t going to spend time on I would not have been able to be empathetic. It would have been impossible for me to see her shame in not speaking the language well. If I had allowed her to take advantage of me – emotionally – by not speaking my mind to her – there is no way I could see her shame. I would be sitting in the swampland trying to dig myself out.
It was weird because I don’t have this strong urge of anger when she behaves narcissistically. I addressed her remarks and will try to continue to do so when she shames me or others. It is weird to walk away without the level of hate I have accumulated with regard to my narcissistic friends. I often wonder if I had done this with them at the get go of our acquaintance would it have led to friendship? Let me tell ya – Alba is not seeking friendship with me nor am I with her. That is a point we both can agree on.