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Feeling down in Lyon town

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Desperately searching for a toilet, or "hiking," near the town of Saint-Étienne, France.


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OCTOBER 23, 2011

Believe it or not, this Francophile has the blues, or as the French would say, “J’ai le cafard” which literally translates to “I have the cockroach.” Yup, I’m finally in France and I’m feeling a little down.

Although there are several contributing factors, such as the broken headphones and the two-week cold that was recently upgraded to week-long diarrhea aka European Thunder Flu status, it mostly comes down to my frustration with the French language and my French envy.

After a month and a half in France, it seems like my French has actually gotten worse, not better, as France continues to be the biggest collection of inside jokes in my life. When the French are laughing, I’m just confused. Dinner with the family, movies, TV shows and even class leave me confused and frustrated.

And now, whenever I walk past a group of my French peers laughing and talking loudly in their native tongue, I find myself immediately hating them. At first, I thought these were simply my usual judgments. I’ve been known to detest a complete stranger simply for wearing an ill-advised Ed Hardy shirt or for using a cell phone like a boom box in public. However, this is a different hatred; it’s language envy. I just hate them because they’re speaking French fluently and having a damn good time doing it. How dare they! Plus, since I can’t understand what they’re saying, I can’t approve of their humor. Was that joke worthy of laughter? I’ll never know. Oh, the anguish.

My troubles with French have not only got me down, they’ve got me a little homesick as well. That’s right, I miss Berkeley, that wonderful place with mumps outbreaks and bake sale shenanigans. Don’t even get me started with the food and beer that I miss; it’s just too upsetting.

Since I’ve never really been homesick — mostly because I’ve hardly been in situations like this that would warrant homesickness — it’s been an interesting experience. The homesickness manifested itself in odd behaviors, behaviors that I didn’t quite understand at first. I found myself hiding in my bedroom watching clips of Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle for hours. Not only was I calling my parents more, I actually wanted to talk to them. I even watched the Cal vs. Washington game on a live stream.

In the end, I’m confident this will all pass. Buying new headphones and having some solid bowel movement would be a fantastic start to my turn around. Not thinking about Berkeley food, American microbrews and fountain soda would be helpful as well. Oh yeah, my trips to London (English football match!) and Berlin (Wilco!) should help cheer me up too.

Perhaps learning a new language is a bit like an organ transplant, and right now I’m just experiencing a little language transplant rejection.

Image source: Katerina Siefkas/courtesy 

Contact Kevan Rolfness at 


OCTOBER 31, 2011