Back from Vacation

Just a quick post to say that I’m back to Saudi from the NSA Conference and then almost a week of vacation chasing the Tour de France. Last year I only chased the Tour for about 2 days. This time it was four full days followed up by a concert in London.

For the whole vacation, I spoke a lot more French than last year. This being related to meeting someone at the conference from Canada (the French-speaking part) and then when I was in France, having dinner with family friends of my traveling companion.

I even told one of the family friends that I stuttered! I knew the word for it because I learned it at the conference.

I won’t say it was all a success — I still hid from a speaking opportunity here and there. But overall it felt good to get out there and stutter away, happily saying and asking what I wanted to.

In the next few days I’ll post about my overall conference experience, comparisons to last year, workshop-by-workshop descriptions, and then a brief on France and a day in England for the concert.

Stuttering in France Part 4

Alright, so this is the last installment of stuttering in France, and, well, it doesn’t involve any stuttering. But hey, I need to finish the Tour chasing story, right?

So here’s what happened in Fresnes from yesterday’s post:

As well as this from Pannes:

In the bottom photo — it’s blurry — but Matthew is giving us a thumbs up! We were waving the flag and screamed his name as loud as we could. He ripped past us at more than 60kph I’m guessing — they were coming off a little hill around a curve. So he’s giving us the thumbs up through the turn — quite the professional!

I posted both of those on Friday evening, and @matthewbusche favorited both of them. Success!

We had parked up in Pannes and took the photo above. Then we got back into the car and tried to get to a third spot. Unfortunately, the tour-chasing app wasn’t updating regularly since we had spotty reception out in the French countryside. So while we thought we were ahead of the peloton, we were actually just behind it.

And that was it! In two days we saw the peloton five times. We saw a run-in to the finish as well as the start. All-in-all a good taste of what chasing the tour is like.

After leaving Pannes, we headed toward Luxembourg. I had an appointment with the great Dr. Tom Weidig from Stuttering Brain. He gave me an awesome tour of his city as well as some great advice on stuttering. (So yeah, it was a real stuttering-centric vacation).

I’ll get into what Tom and I talked about next week.

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.

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