Upcoming site changes

I sat down yesterday and listed out all the changes and additions that I’d like to make to the site. Then realized it’s a lot of work. Then I thought how it should all be perfect — find all the links, all the articles, all the videos — and then put it on the site.

Then I remembered my French.

With stuttering and speaking a foreign language, I was always hesitant. Because I thought it all had to be perfect. Then I could utter the words. So since it’s never going to be perfect, I had a nice excuse for never using my high school French.

Then I found out that no, that’s not the case at all. You don’t have to be perfect to open your mouth. Just put it out there, and don’t be afraid.

So with this site it should be the same. Put up what I can. Don’t be afraid. I can filter and sort it out later. I can build on it more and more. Nobody is going to complain. At least I’m making the effort.

Stuttering in France Part 3

Chasing the Tour wasn’t too difficult for these early stages — the peloton traveled on smaller roads near a larger highway. So right after Epernay, we made for the highway, and made as much time as we could.

We looked at the map and found a small town — Fresnes-en-Woëvre. It was sort of near the highway, and the peloton would be there shortly — there is a timetable on the Tour’s Web site. So we parked up about 200 meters away and walked over to the route.

There were a bunch of people from the small town just standing around. No cars were going through yet. As we walked around a little (to take some photos of sunflowers, etc.,) we ran into an older man. We said hello, but he realized that we didn’t speak French. And he called to some people across the road — in French, he said we don’t speak French! And did anybody speak English? No!

Ah, here was my chance! So I said to this older man (in French!) that yes, I did speak French. He was quite surprised! So, in whatever French I could muster, I explained to him that we were from America, we were here to chase the Tour, and that we worked as engineers. I also said we just arrived yesterday, and that we would be leaving tomorrow. (Yeah, I know, it’s real simple stuff. But seriously, this was a huge win for me).

Then he began talking, and it was a bit difficult to understand. But I did make out that he was retired, and he had worked with disabled children when he was working.

And that was pretty much that!

Did I think about stuttering at all while talking to the old man? Not really. I was more focused on what I wanted to say and making sure I had some sort of accent so he would understand me. If I didn’t say something, it wasn’t because I was avoiding — it’s because I flat out didn’t know how to express myself.

But just to review: Did I approach a complete stranger? Yes. Was I anxious about it? Yes. Did I stutter? Eh, maybe a little. Did the world end? No. No it didn’t. Positive reinforcement.

We had brought along a large American flag to wave around on the side of the road. Using a tour tracking app, we found out that American Matthew Busche was in the breakaway! So as they were about to go past, we busted out the big flag and screamed Matthew’s name. They went by in a blur, but it was still really exciting. A few moments later the peloton went by.

Then we hustled back to the rental car, checked the map, and pointed ourselves toward Pannes.

Stuttering in France Part 2

I know the expression “best day of my life” gets thrown around a lot, but hey, sometimes it’s appropriate. Of course there are the standard ones, birth of children, graduation from college, first job, etc., and so on. So let’s just throw this in the Top Ten of other stuff that doesn’t go in those categories.

And yes, one of the best days of my life involved talking to strangers. In a foreign language. And being anxious about stuttering. Continuing on yesterday’s post …

On our second day of chasing the Tour, we woke up in Reims and then drove down to Epernay. This was nice because the hotels in Reims were cheap that night! And it was easy to make the drive. Not too much traffic. We tried to get as close to the center of town as we could, but didn’t have any idea of where to really park or be. No matter. Just park about 2-3 km away and walk down. We got there pretty early — maybe around 10 — so we had time to walk around, get some food and take in the crowds that were already forming.

Before the riders pass through, there is the publicity caravan. They get going really early. So we stood around and watched them go by on the course, throwing out little samples and other stuff.

After that we noticed a large empty parking lot. We didn’t know where the teams were though — the buses? Were they parked up someplace else? We didn’t have any kind of local map or guide book to help us.

But after a while I figured, no, this giant parking lot is where the team buses are going to go. But when? Let’s let the stuttering try to take over:

Stuttering: Look, you already figured out that the buses and thus the teams are going to be here. Why do we need to talk to anybody?
Me: Because maybe they won’t be. Maybe there’s another parking lot within walking distance. It’s entirely possible.
Stuttering: No it’s not. C’mon. Think about it.
Me: Ok, smartypants, then when are the teams going to be here then?
Stuttering: They’ll be here when they’ll be here. Be patient.
Me: Unacceptable!

I saw a security-guard type fellow standing near the entrance of the parking lot — the parking lot led into a VIP-looking area. There were some other tourists milling about and talking to the security guard. I didn’t want to ask him something in French when people were around. (So, see, here we go — I’ll speak a foreign language to a complete stranger, but dammit, I’ll do it on my own terms.) Suddenly the security guard was alone, and I moved in quickly. My friend was right next to me the whole time even though I said, “hang on, let me check something.” I think my friend just wanted to hear the exchange.

I asked the security guard, in French, where the teams are. He said they would be here, in this parking lot. When, I asked. He said at 11 (I remember understanding the answer — pretty sure it was 11 … or maybe he said thirty minutes?). And that was all we needed. Ok! So, high school French used without issue! Did I stutter? No? Did I think about stuttering? A little — the anxiety part. Did I think I was going to stutter? Yes. But did I? No. So did anything bad happen speaking a foreign language? NO! Confidence boosted.

We then walked around to the other side of the parking lot, and when we got there, the buses started pulling in. Perfect! Apparently the parking lot was a wrist-band only VIP type area, but some of the buses parked along the perimeter fence so the public could walk right up. That’s where we were. First the mechanics came out to set up the bikes, and then a few riders came out to do interviews. As a cycling fan, it was all a dream come true!

After milling about for nearly an hour, we walked a block to the course and took up a spot with thousands of others. The peloton slowly rode by (they were still being neutralized) and then we ran back to the car to drive out into the French countryside and wait for the peloton to roll by again.

Next stop: Fresnes-en-Woëvre, and a lot more French speaking.

Stuttering in France Part 1

So after going to the NSA Annual Conference, I flew back to Saudi. But on the way, I stopped off in France for two and a half days to catch the Tour de France. I’m a casual cycling fan and like to get out on my bike as often as possible. Watching the Tour in person was something I’ve been hoping to do for many years.

I talked my best friend from high school into coming for a few days as well. The more the merrier. The plan was pretty simple — we were going to catch two of the earlier stages — flat ones — and that’s it. I wasn’t interested in seeing Paris or any specific tourist trap. All I wanted was to see the peloton a few times.

With regards to stuttering, I was somewhat juiced up by the workshop where others talked about stuttering in foreign languages. And how we all deserve to speak a foreign language. Yes!

Before even going on the trip, I talked to the French couple who I met here in Saudi. I actually practiced some French with them — what I wanted to say at the rental car counter. I wanted a Skoda! (all the Tour cars are Skodas … so … yeah, I dunno. Seemed like a nice idea). Anyway, when I was talking to them, they told me my French was actually pretty good.

I didn’t go to France with any specific amount of French that I wanted to speak, but I wanted to try at every opportunity.

The first chance was at the rental counter. I got a few words in — hello, I have a reservation, here’s my passport … and then she realized I was American and spoke English, sot he rest of the transaction happened in English. No problem. We’re making progress. The other positive thing that happened was that she said she didn’t have the specific car I wanted. But I didn’t back down. I wanted a stick shift car, and well, not the VW Beetle she had. She looked and said it would be tough. Please? I really want this type of car. Ok, so she found something, but it was at the next terminal. Can I go over there? Well, I have some time before my friend arrives, so can they bring it here? Yes, they can. Super.

Since I had taken French in high school, I was able to read and understand mostly everything in and around the airport. I was pretty comfortable and very happy about it. I was also thinking I could make a life in France work …

After my friend showed up, we drove straight for a small town (he took Spanish in high school, so was completely useless with regards to … reading anything). We parked up, strode into town, and waited for the peloton. While standing there, we turned around and realized we were right in front of a bakery. Hungry! So we headed inside, bonjour, s’il vous plait, and well, they’re speaking English as well to us. But I wasn’t letting the stutter get any advantage at all.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was much the same — a little French at the beginning of an interaction, and then they started speaking English. Maybe they were practicing as well? No. Probably not. But I liked the confidence that knowing French gave me in France. And I felt more comfortable because everybody was speaking French and making it all sound normal.

During my French classes in high school, it all seemed so … textbook. And there was no “reality” around it — back in those days before the Internet (as it is today) we didn’t really watch any French speakers on YouTube or shows or anything like that. So it remained very … foreign.

Tomorrow I’ll get into Friday in France. One of the best days of my life for a variety of reasons — including how I spoke to a complete stranger (in French!) and other authority figures.

Eighth Grade

A few quick things before getting into eighth grade —

I noticed there’s the British Stammering Association’s national conference in August over a weekend. Maybe I should go to that, too? I mean, might as well jump into the deep end, right? It’s in Glasgow. I’d probably only need to take one or two days off.

Speaking of which, please note that I’m in Saudi — so our days off are Friday and Saturday. I’ll try to set something up to post on the “weekend,” but may not always get around to it. As a bonus, you’ll get posts on Sunday, though.

Also, please note that this tour of my past is only of the major points that I recall — I’ll still dip into the mental archives now and again to highlight some issues. For example, I haven’t said anything about being raised as a Muslim — and having to learn to read Arabic.

Alright, onto eighth grade. As I mentioned, my confidence is cyclical, so by my last year in junior high, things were going very well. The boat anchor of having to talk in French was being towed along easily by every other class. I had established a solid core of friends, we enjoyed our classes, and my sense of humor was in full swing. By this time, I was watching Letterman on Friday nights and Friends on Thursday nights. My sarcasm was reaching new heights.

In English class we watched Dead Poets Society. There’s a scene in the movie when one of the characters receives a phone call and tells the headmaster in front of everybody. I thought this was great. That year we had a weekly class, something like, CAP, or Curriculum Activity Period. I can’t remember what it was for, but we thought it was useless, so we called it CRAP, or Curriculum-Related Activity Period. Anyway, inspired by the movie, I brought in a little Liberty Bell (that my brother had got on a field trip) and the headset from a telephone at home. Then, during English, I rang the bell and answered the phone. I told my teacher it was God, and that He thought we should cancel CAP.

Fortunately he had a sense of humor about it. He even showed me the paddle that he kept in his closet. Like most of the teachers, he was old school, so that sort of thing used to go down. My heinie was spared, and my confidence was boosted nicely. The other nice thing about school was that aside from French, there wasn’t any class participation. I could engage on my own terms. I could sit in the back of a class and make sarcastic comments under my breath to my heart’s content.

I don’t remember specifically going to speech therapy after sixth grade (although I did start going again in high school). I don’t remember that I even participated in such a decision. Maybe the teachers or therapists or my parents thought that I was doing fine? My grades were very solid. I didn’t have any behavioral issues.

So once again I had reached a relative peak, and once again, I’d be brought down mightily by a whole new experience. High school was up next.

Seventh Grade

What I noticed when making notes on my stuttering is that on the whole, my confidence is cyclical. I’ll expand more on this later, but in short, it meant that by the time I reached fifth grade, I was feeling very good and confident. Then back to zero in sixth. By eighth, I was good again. Then as a freshman in high school, back to zero. College was the same. As I grow familiar with people and the process, things definitely get easier. The point of this is that although a new job might seem intimidating at first, it’ll eventually smooth out. So I shouldn’t let stuttering get in the way of seeking out new opportunities.

Onto seventh grade.

Keeping in mind that since in sixth there were still two other wings of kids who I never even saw, seventh would mean even more mixing and more new kids. We had three “teams” (instead of the wings), red, white and blue. I was on the blue team. I think at this point the school also starting grouping people by their ability. Seventh grade really ended up being a mid-point of confidence. On the one hand, I was developing my sense of humor, having a fun time, and hanging out with friends who I still talk to today. On the other, there was French class.

Our school offered three languages starting in seventh grade — French, Spanish and German. I have no idea why I chose French. French 1 was actually split across seventh and eighth grade. French 2-5 was then offered in high school for grades 9-12.

A person can probably get away with not participating in math class. Or science class. Or maybe even English class. But not French. You were there to read, write and speak another language. At first I thought this would be cool and fun. Then when I opened the book and saw the words for ‘he’ and ‘she’ are ‘il’ and ‘elle,’ I knew it would be a long, long year.

Not only did our teacher speak in French to us, she expected us to answer in French to her. It turns out that I’m extremely self conscious with regards to speaking another language. (Even to this day — I’m in Saudi and barely speak any Arabic and haven’t learned; I also barely speak any Urdu to strangers even though I know a good bit from having it spoken at the house during my childhood).

To handle this, I simply had to work harder on the reading and writing part at the expense of speaking. I would usually know the answer to whatever was being asked, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to raise my hand and offer up a few French words. If called on, yeah, sure. Looking back what makes me sad about this is that I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I didn’t know. Nobody ever said, ‘hey, look, I know you’re unsure about pronunciation and the words, but don’t worry. Just give it a try. Everybody else is in the same boat.’ Also, ‘nobody expects you to be fluent. Just listen to anybody speak a non-native language for the first time. They’re not conjugating anything right.’ Or at least work in a smaller group after school.

You have to remember that in those days you couldn’t just go online and find a local French-speaking family to practice with. There was no online. (Aside: so let’s say there’s no internet and some French-speaking person puts up a flyer at the library. It’d have a phone number, right? What, so I’m cold-calling people at age 12 to learn a language I don’t even want to speak? Right.)

I’m sad because it turns out that even 17 years after high school, I still remember a good deal of French. I could probably get by if you threw me in the middle of France. I know this because I sucked it up recently and spoke French to a French family here in Saudi. But I still hesitate to speak French with them because I’m so self conscious. And I don’t know why — they’d never laugh at my attempts.

I’m curious if any of the other kids felt as self-conscious or not. Maybe they didn’t care, they just threw out the words? Was I more so because I was someone who stutters?

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