Apr 3, 2023·edited Apr 3, 2023Liked by M Tamara Cutler

I'm twelve going on thirteen, and the French teacher has called on me to recite the dialogue from memory. I stand beside my desk and wipe sweaty palms on my dress. The room is deathly still, all eyes on me. Mother and I had practiced the night before. As usual, she donned her beret and butchered the vocabulary words, probably on purpose so I could correct her. But for recitation, I needed to hear the words spoken by someone who knew how to pronounce them. As Henry Higgins said in My Fair Lady: "The French don't care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly." So, there I was, standing in the classroom, seeing the dialogue in my head, and speaking the lines. Until this: "Tant Mieux." I can see it, I can see it, but how do you say it? Don't pronounce the t at the end of the first word, but the second? Too many vowels. Everyone waited. And waited. And waited. My body became as cold as my face was hot. Finally, the French teacher prompted me. Tant Mieux - so much the better! Mercy. Merci. Hand me my beret, won't you?

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The accent can make the difference.

The trio awoke, a few hours post-performance. Too early in the morning to escape a cider headache earned from the last night’s gig in a cramped Basque bar outside of San Sebastian. Antonio Luis (drums) took responsibility and drove the tour van across the border into southern France. The border crossing was a first for Antonio, who had never left Spain. 9 hours later in Paris, Jorge (bass) and Eric (guitar/vocals) failed to convince a tired and culture-shocked Antonio to leave his hotel room in the 14th arrondissement for their short appearance at Le Pop-In. “Don’t worry, I get it. We’ve got this,” said Eric. “It’s only a 20-minute slot, we’ll go acoustic.”

The duo performed to a sweaty and packed basement. After the set, an announcer’s voice boomed out of the main sound system. “Thank you. That’s it. You’re geeks. Geeks. Geeks!” Eric stood stunned. Was it the acoustic set in a rowdy room? Too soft? Is this guy serious? What nerve!

“Gigs. He is asking if you have any upcoming gigs,” Mich (manager) shouted from the front row. Confidence restored. “Oh. Ah, yes. We’re off to Gent and Amsterdam. See you there!”

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Apr 4, 2023Liked by M Tamara Cutler

My Scouse nana used to say, ‘You’ll be waiting for Dick to dock.’

‘When you’re older you go down like a cow’s tale.’

‘You don’t know your luck ‘til your hat falls off.’

Between those words I hear seagulls and see boats bobbing against the Liverpool docks. Old women marching down the pub to see where their husband is with the rent money. Irish families walking down Hope Street to one of its two cathedrals, a whole history echoed in the direction they take.

I remember less of what my dad said, but I can hear him saying in his Scouse accent, ‘I like your kecks’.

‘She looked like a cat’s arse.’

‘Oi, dogs head.’

It brings back memories of stories that feel like memories of my own. A young punk sitting in the bath in his jeans, and asking his mum to sew them even tighter. In the centre of Liverpool, spitting at an old nun who abused him at school. Delivering a kick up the bum to a man who was abusing his dog.

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Apr 7, 2023·edited Apr 7, 2023Liked by M Tamara Cutler

I don't speak French and he didn't speak English but we gave looks that didn't need translating. He came into the cafe with a group of friends, just as I had. The cafe was across the street from Favela where my friends and I did what we've been doing for years, dancing our asses off.

I picked him because he looked like James Franco. The two of us who were single stayed at the cafe while the others went back to the apartment. On the sidewalk outside the cafe we flirted, laughed, and made out with our cute Parisians. My Paris James Franco and I decided to go to his place. He gave me his helmet to wear, and I got behind him on his moped. On the drive we would take off our helmets to kiss when we stopped at lights. Paris at night was dark, exhilarating, sexy, and, without words and explanations, beautifully, peacefully, freeing.

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Apr 7, 2023Liked by M Tamara Cutler

The everyday norms of the language that surrounded me seemed empty, so I escaped to a refuge, a place where once I entered and closed the door, the banality of the world could be expunged. Entering that space, I discovered a new language, one that spoke to me in a profound manner: the language of signs, symbols, color, words, music, movement, and nuance. The creative impulse and process revealed my connection to a shared reality with my forefathers.

Throughout my life, while necessity demanded my engagement in the practical aspect of the everyday, I always had creativity as my refuge. Before anything else, the studio was my priority, and I knew no matter where I was, no matter the conditions, l could seamlessly enter my world where the cacophony of spoken language melted away. I would not be able to endure being 85 without my constant exploration of the language of creativity.

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Having just moved to LIsbon Portugal, literally 14 days ago, my husband and I have a mission to learn European Portuguese. We started taking an online class here, but before we even moved we started learning the basics. "Olã, Bom Dia! Boa Tarde. Boa Noite. Sim and Não." Our dog knows 7 commands in Portuguese as well. We always start off each interaction with a hearty "Ola, Bom Dia!...and usually get a Portuguese response, sometimes being able to understand their response, sometimes not and then we have to throw in a "Não falo Português...Fala Ingles?" People here are SOOOO kind and accommodating and appreciate us at least trying. And we manage somehow.

We met two US expat couples last week. Both have lived here for 4 years. One couple semi-refuse to learn Portuguese. "We know we should, but why when almost everyone speaks English?" was their lazy response. The other couple have been studying heavily over the last 3 years, taking intensive immersive week long classes. "We want to be a part of the inner community here. We also want to get our dual citizenship as well." To me, the second couple has the right idea. Why would we expats decide (or even DEMAND) that everyone else should speak OUR native language, English. I find that incredibly entitled and rude and sad , so to that I say, "Você vai perder tanto": You will miss out on so much.

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I’d just moved to Miami from Brazil, and needed tomatoes. So I did the obvious: walked around in search of a sidewalk displaying fresh produce. The sidewalks were bare, but a small store called Deli&Market seemed perfect: an unpretentious place to get fresh food and neighborly smiles. I asked the cashier where the tomatoes were. He pointed me to a shelf full of cans. Oh, I thought. No tomatoes, but maybe I could still have the smile?

I struck conversation: “I just moved nearby.” He groaned. “So really no tomatoes?” He groaned. “Yea, it’s probably inconvenient to carry fresh tomatoes—they’re so fragile, right?” He didn’t even groan. Just looked at me perplexed.

For weeks, I rewinded the conversation in my mind, wondering what went wrong. Then I realized: I’d pronounced fragile as if rhyming with mile. That must’ve been it!

It’d be a full year until I stopped looking for fresh tomatoes or smiles in Miami. A full year until I understood: the cashier wasn’t shocked over a mispronounced word, but over a misplaced expectation. Nobody gets fresh tomatoes on foot in Miami. For freshness, folk go to Publix—Florida’s local, free-to-park, NRA-supporting, Capitol-riot-financing grocery chain.

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Apr 30, 2023Liked by M Tamara Cutler

Back when I traveled more on my own, sometimes I would go for days without speaking. Despite being a lifelong lover of languages and of learning them, I would suddenly find myself only able to not-speak.

Was the new context so overwhelming that I couldn’t process it all? Was I too insecure to piece together a sentence in the other language? Given the risk of failing miserably, was it better not to try at all? This was when fewer people seemed willing or able to speak English in other countries – something that changed with increasing globalization and online media consumption. Or was I simply busy taking in the sounds and sights as an observer, an outsider?

Maybe that’s why I am drawn to people who speak more freely and confidently than I do. Perhaps it’s also because I grew up not-speaking my mother’s native tongue. On the rare occasions she said something to me in her language, it was usually to curse. One time I parroted her words – a child’s attempt to connect – and received a slap in the face in return.

It taught me the valuable lesson that sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut.

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When I was in 5th grade my family moved to Denmark for a year for my father's work, and my brother and I went to the local public school. I was young enough to pick up Danish, an easy language, quickly. In fact, I don't really remember not being able to speak with my new friends. We were apparently in the easy friendship stage of girl development. I remember riding our bikes to a little stationary store and picking out strawberry scented heart erasers and tiny notebooks, and playing easy access games like the Danish version of hopscotch using a hinkesten, a pretty clear glass stone. I remember one day playing in our garage with one of my new friends, by then feeling so relaxed and close that I accidentally spoke in English to her. I was so surprised English had accidentally come out of me and I knew it was because I was feeling a relaxed, familiar, almost family feeling. That is when I first noticed the link of language and intimacy. That is also the first time I remember having a 'meta' observation, a 'huh whaddya know' moment, learning something new about how we humans are wired.

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