I feel like I have PMS, but it just isn’t that time of the month. So, I think it must be SLS, Second Language Syndrome, which is characterised by constant small misunderstandings; occasional straight-up “Honestly, I have no idea what we’re talking about,” admissions at meetings when your boss surveys the room with his eyes seeking consensus and you realise you’re about to put your stamp on something when in fact you couldn’t name whether that thing is animal, vegetable or philosophical; and overwhelming fatigue when faced with the evening’s gameshow entertainment, piped in from France, indecipherable and featuring questions not covered in your Canadian Education or cultural experience.
Other common features of SLS are a tendency to abruptly switch to your maiden tongue when excited, either out of joy or frustration, and an unconscious up regulation of mime skills and tendencies towards physical comedy. Strangely, rather than emphasising country of origin, manifestations of SLS tend towards an international median featuring a stereotypically Italianate physicality, an Eastern European morose temperament, and, luckily for my current geography, African punctuality, as it is a common occurrence to not know that something is happening until colleagues are actually on their way there. Headaches are frequent, a result of squinting at people’s practically stationary mouths and willing them to enunciate. Feelings of self-doubt and lack of efficacy are pathopneumonic.
The up-side: new sympathies abound. For immigrants—what courage to choose a lifetime of this! For those with impaired hearing—I feel you straining. For anyone who has ever put their foot in their mouth or simply tripped over their own lips while trying to form some unfamiliar syllables—yes…me too.
My current treatments are pulp fiction and canned radio and lectures. I’m also thinking of implanting an early-birthday gift, “Phone the Anglophone” campaign aimed at friends and family, figuring that at the 43 cents per minute Skype-Djibouti Rate everyone could phone me for half-an-hour and skip the box of chocolates or bottle of wine come November. In the meantime, thanks be to CBC radio itunes: I’m going to go listen to “Dave Cooks the Turkey” one more time.