Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sub-total immersion

Until last weekend, we had an eighteen year-old staying in our spare bedroom. Charlotte is the daughter of my best friend in Scotland and her plans for a gap year in Nepal fell through at the last minute due to that pesky Marxist coup. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about a teenage girl we hardly know staying with us for a whole month. However, I needn't have worried because she turned out to be the ideal house guest — she was in class studying French all day and out most evenings doing whatever it is that eighteen-year-olds do nowadays. When she was here she was a pleasure to have around.

I was constantly reminded of how much things have moved on since I was eighteen and came to work in France for the first time. In those days (can you hear my voice going reedy and see my body leaning lower over my walking stick?) I used to save up five-franc pieces for my weekly call home from a draughty phone box. Our broadband provider gives us free calls to just about anywhere in the world so Charlotte could call home any time she liked. Apart from the occasional letter, I was out of touch with my friends back home for almost all of the time that I was in France; Charlotte kept in touch with her friends through Facebook and text messages. I used to save up and buy the occasional English-language newspaper, Charlotte could have read any newspaper she liked on the internet. I went home after three months to discover that there were lots of new adverts and series on TV, Charlotte could have watched English-language television to her heart's delight via satellite (had we a satellite dish, hint, hint), cable (had she wanted to suffer through reruns of Dad's Army and The Good Life) and of course copious downloading.

I'll stop there before I get to the "well we lived in a shoebox in a cess pit" line from Monty Python. I suppose that what I'm saying is that it's actually much more difficult nowadays to achieve the total immersion effect in a foreign language.

Charlotte is off to New Zealand next month — I suppose the Maoris have broadband too.


materfamilias said...

At 18, visiting my relatives in England, I missed my plane back home (two missed seats as I was travelling with my 13-year old sister). Although my London aunt had a phone (many of my English rellies didn't at the time -- 1971), there was never a question of calling my parents to let them know. Instead we sent a telegram (which didn't arrive 'til they'd got back from the airport, having watched everyone else disembark from the plane their daughters should have been on). Today, that seems absolutely incongruous. When my daughter and her BF travelled through England and Scotland 8 or 10 years ago, she phoned me two or three times a week just to chat and let me know what they'd done or seen. And even since then, when she used pay phones, things have changed -- last year, she called from Italy on her cell phone.
My husband and I, however, prefer to travel as if communication were still difficult -- we like the illusion of being unreachable (even as we appreciate the security of knowing we could easily be contacted in an emergency).
There, I've blathered on a bit too much, but I found this an interesting post. Thanks.

Lesley said...

Materfamilias: Your poor parents!
I forgot about the differences in modes of travel. Charlotte arrived fresh off the plane a few hours after leaving Edinburgh. For years, I used to take the night train up to Paris, cross Paris on the metro, take the boat train, then a ferry, then another train to London. I'd cross London on the tube and then get the train north. It usually took about twenty-four hours for me to arrive dirty and dishevelled in Edinburgh.

Lucy said...

A few years back, a young Anglo-Japanese friend of ours was climbing Mt Fuji. She had a mobile which enabled her to talk to her mum in Europe, receive e-mails of encouragement from us and others and generally be in touch with the whole world anytime she wanted. Which rather defeats the object of going up a mountain, I tend to think.

On the other hand I do appreciate all the communication and vicarious experience, and I daresay if I were a parent I'd be relieved that kids didn't have to be in so much danger. But it does seem as though you got more experience for your money back in the old days, now people have to gobble up more and more of the world to feel as though they're experiencing something different.

She must be very outgoing to be out on the town of an evening as soon as she got there... Now I do sound bitter and twisted, I can't imagine making friends that quickly at that age. Mass-communication doesn't seem to be making these kidss socially inept.

Neil said...

That's so true. When I was doing my middle aged travelling (cue shameless link to I would've been on the first plane home to my mammy if I hadn't had the internet link to home to keep me sane.

Rosie said...

Communications do make travelling less stressful...for parents!

Lesley said...

Lucy : A friend of ours sailed across the Atlantic recently - we were in touch constantly!

Neil : Did you send your washing home in brown paper parcels?

Rosie : yes, but what about the day s/he loses the phone in the wilds of the Hindu Kish? Then you spend days worrying for nothing.