I want to be happier than I am in Nice. I was looking forward to this part of the holiday so much, because I’ve always enjoyed trips to Nice before – I’ve been on my own and had a pleasant time here a couple of times. I know the place well and it should have been a chance to relax and settle a little. Instead I’ve been willing the time to pass, to get me to next week when I can finally go home. On my second day here, I actually looked up the price of last minute flights and trains to London. I was prepared to waste the money I had already spent on accommodation here, so I could run away and resume my normal life. If I hadn’t already spent a small fortune on changing my plans in Spain, when I booked three nights in a four star hotel in Barcelona at the last minute instead of completing my stay in Madrid, I might have actually booked myself a seat on a plane or train home. But I had already vastly overspent on this holiday – I can’t bear to calculate the total figure – and if I was to maintain any sense of self control, I had to stay in Nice. Two weeks here couldn’t be that bad. At the least the weather was good when I got here.
The bug bear of the whole holiday has been my accommodation choices. Nearly every place I’ve stayed in has had problems of some sort. You can’t control these things, of course – it’s not my fault that I felt unsafe where I was staying in Madrid, or that the place I’m staying in now has a chronic problem with flies. That’s right, the flat seems to be infested with these tiny flies that don’t make any noise but which buzz around you all day if you don’t kill them. At first I was more bothered by other issues, such as the fact that one of the entrances leads directly onto a main road, meaning I have to keep the blinds shut on that side of the flat to avoid the stares of passers by. I could also have done with the bedroom and shower room being a lot bigger; as it is there’s barely enough room to move and get changed in them, which is frustrating. But with the passing days I’ve come to accept those things; it’s the flies that are getting to me now.
During these two days I intended to relax, go on some nice walks by the sea, do a lot of writing. I’ve certainly done the second and third things in abundance; I can’t say I’ve done much of the first at all. I don’t know if I’ve managed to do any real relaxing on this holiday. Isn’t that a shame? I ask myself if it’s because the places I’ve stayed in have genuinely been riddled with problems, or if I have brought a negative mindset everywhere with me.
The first argument, that most of the places I’ve stayed have suffered from real problems, seems more likely when you consider how much I enjoyed Lisbon, Porto, Venice and Geneva. I could happily have stayed in those places a lot longer. It’s Madrid, Rome and now Nice that have spoiled things.
The other argument, that it’s all down to my mindset, is lent more support when you consider that even in Porto, Venice and Geneva I didn’t really feel like I was on holiday relaxing. I loved seeing the sights and walking round, taking all those pictures – but it was more like I’d been forced to do it than I had actually chosen to. I think this comes down to more than me being stressed out – everything that’s going on in my life today has contributed to the issue. I want to get home so much because I want to see how the next stage of my life is going to pan out, to find a new career and finally sort this issue of lack of friends out. Originally I booked the long holiday as a way of taking a break before I had to face those things, but now more than ever I wish I had just decided to get straight on with them.
I’ve always believed that it’s not worth regretting past decisions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t spend a lot of my life regretting them. In my natural state I’m always regretting things that have happened in the past, whilst worrying about the future at the same time. Once I get home and get a job, I know I will be looking to the next big turning point, waiting anxiously for it to come so that I can say I’ve made it past that milestone. I’m a typical AA member in that sense, never happy in the present.
Realising that I’ve been doing it on this holiday, I’ve tried to step outside the mindset and just make the most of the present. This week I’ve taken advantage of glorious weather, walked all around the French riviera and taken hundreds of photos, reminding myself that it’s just a feeling, not fact when I start to feel like I miss home and wish I wasn’t here. By today, I was feeling a little better, but as soon as I remember that there are nine long days still to go I can sink back into that pit of yearning if I’m not careful.
The unignorable fact that I’ve been in Europe for over a month without having a single conversation with anyone is the pin that will burst any bubble of positivity that I try and console myself with. It’s true: the only real communication I’ve had is the weekly phone call to my mother and an intermittent facebook conversation with P. Apart from buying things in shops and cafes, I’ve had no face to face contact with anyone since I left home. I’ve tried counting myself lucky that at least I can look forward to those facebook messages from P and those phone calls from mum, but I know it’s not enough. I didn’t intend to travel around Europe without speaking to anyone new. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but on that plane to Lisbon I hoped that at some point in the next five weeks I was going to make a friend somewhere. In 2015, a year that won’t exactly be remembered for wild socialising, I’d made dozens of friends in Bulgaria. If I could do that I could do it in one of Western Europe’s big cities, surely.
Of course the situation in Bulgaria was constructed for me by work. I had to train and talk to those people day in and day out; making no friends would have been strange. Here I’m entirely on my own, with no arrangements or groups that I can rely on. I somehow would have to make something happen, and in the end I’ve failed by not really trying. Until Nice I wasn’t going to be in any one place for more than five days, so realistically it never seemed possible to forge something with someone in the time that I had.
In Nice I could go to English AA meetings, I could hang around in gay bars, I could look online for English ex-pat social groups. So far I’ve done none of that. The same old excuses have been used: after days of walking round taking pictures I’m often too tired to find an AA meeting or a gay bar and talk to people. The ugly truth of the matter is that I haven’t really wanted to make the effort here either, even though I’ve got a fortnight and I’m feeling pretty goddamn lonely in the evenings. It’s the same problem that has plagued my social life at home for the past few years, a lack of desire to put the work in. I bloody wish people would come to me for a change, but they never do.
When I get home next week I’ll still have time to do something. I’ve planned not to return to work until January, so I’ll have five or six weeks in the lead up to Christmas to re-establish some kind of social circle, if I decide that it’s a pressing need. Alternatively I could just wait until I have a job again. Experience has shown that being in a work environment eight hours a day leads naturally to friendships: it did time and time again in my old job, until the end. Perhaps I’ve stumbled on some great truth about society: that unless we’re put in situations with each other we don’t go out of our way to make friends. Or perhaps I’m using that opinion as an excuse not to make any changes in my life as it currently is.
Something else I wanted to do in Nice was improve my French – and it’s happening, slowly. By listening into conversations in shops and on TV I’m learning new vocabulary and grammar, all of which is good. But it’s so difficult! When I think I’ve got a handle on it, I hear someone say something that makes no sense, with words that I’ve never known before, and the frustration of the novice comes back. If I watch any French TV programme, whether it’s the news, a soap opera or game show, I can probably understand around 40% – 50% of what they’re saying, if they speak slowly and clearly. That reduces to 20% – 30% if they speak quickly, which the French are more wont to do.
I understand that to get better I have to keep listening and practising. If it’s true that it takes around 10,000 hours of practise to become an expert at something, then I have a lot of hours of practise ahead of me. The problem with French is not the vocabulary, it’s the grammar. I assume it’s the same when learning any language. Translation becomes problematic when the verbs we use in every day language are not used in French. For example, to disappoint in English is to deceive in French (décevoir). To learn in English is to teach in French (apprendre). To like and love in French are the same thing (aimer). To earn in English is to win in French (gagner). When you consider that there are thousands of such discrepancies between the languages it can begin to seem like an impossible task, becoming fluent. That is my ultimate goal, to speak French like a French person, not necessarily because I want to live here but because I’m halfway on the journey already and I can see it enriches my life. I respect and admire anyone who is bilingual. Learning another language expands your mind and your horizons; it adds a layer of interest to the personality. When you tell people that you speak another language it normally impresses them, and if they happen to speak the same language it can create a bond. So I want to carry on; I hope I can, in spite of the frequent difficulty and frustration!