My nerves are getting the better of me. I can feel my stomach twisting into a tight knot. I try in vain to stifle the feeling of panic bubbling up inside of me, threatening to spill over into unadulterated terror. The menace continues to emit its piercing sound; the root of my anxiety. I risk a glance at the caller ID of my mobile phone, willing the person on the other end of the line to hang up and put me out of my misery…My name is Lee and I have telephone phobia.
When plunged into a different society, you accept the ever-present fears lingering in the forefront of your mind as normal. The anxiousness and trepidation about learning a new language, making friends, or driving on the wrong side of the road are worries that are undoubtedly harboured by the majority of foreigners trying to adjust to their new way of life. But breaking out into a sweat at the mere thought of making and receiving phone calls in French was a somewhat unexpected manifestation of my immigration to France.
I quickly came to realise that all of the difficulties that arose when trying to converse with native French speakers were undeniably compounded over the phone or any device which renders face-to-face communication impossible. After a few attempts at ordering MacDonald’s using the drive through invariably resulted in the incorrect McFlurry flavours (a very serious transgression in my book), my husband and I admitted defeat. Yup, you heard me correctly…sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t win ‘em all. Being a beginner in language learning is a very delicate phase. Everything is new and it takes a while for the brain to process all of the information it is receiving. On the phone you have the added hindrances of poor sound quality, as well as the inability to interpret body language or facial expressions, which in even the coolest of cucumbers could trigger slight anxiety. In my case, being a highly trait anxious person to begin with, these added complexities were enough to induce near hysterics. Of course, this only exacerbated the problem! Exhibit A: You can speak a little (with extra emphasis on a little) French → the telephone rings → PANIC! → increased anxiety → decreased language performance i.e. a little French becomes non-existent French, hence the telephone phobia.
This vicious cycle had unintended consequences for me during my first couple of months in France. Yes, I avoided phone calls like the plague, but this ironically led to me speaking more. For example, in lieu of phoning to make an appointment, I would go straight to the source. More often than not this led to questions about where I’m from or what I think about France. Maybe it had something to do with the huge smile I plastered on my face before speaking to anyone, but sometimes I was even graced with comments about the weather or current events! The combination of increased one-on-one conversations together with time (ah yes, good ‘ol “Rome wasn’t built in a day” isn’t a cliché for nothing) led to me becoming much more comfortable speaking French in simple every-day scenarios. This was probably the most important step in my language learning process because once you relax, conversations become infinitely easier. It was at this point that I even gained enough confidence to answer a phone call or two, although I still much prefer face-to-face communication!
So if you are in the beginning stages of learning a language and find yourself stressing at the prospect of making or receiving phone calls, you are not alone. If you surreptitiously try to silent your ringing phone and later profess dismay at having missed a call, you won’t receive any judgment from me. Give it time. And if all else fails, use the following trusty phrase before hanging up: “La connection est très mauvaise!” (The connection is very bad) 😉