The World Looks Different When You’re Speaking a Second Language

There are two versions of the writer Lauren Collins. There is the English-speaking Lauren, who, presumably, is the Lauren primarily responsible for writing her (wonderful) new memoir, When in French. And then there is the French-speaking Lauren, the one tasked with navigating a marriage and a life in a second language. In her new book, she tells the story of falling in love with a Frenchman, marrying him, and relocating with him to Switzerland; a passage toward the end depicts one of the sillier but still salient differences between the two Laurens:

Browsing the internet one day, I came across a powerful American executive’s Twitter bio. The third line — “wife of awesome guy” — struck me as too much and too little, overdone and neutered at the same time. My English self sometimes longed for uncomplicated American manhood. When, one afternoon in Geneva, I saw a freshly showered man in khakis and a chamois shirt tossing damp bangs out of his eyes, probably smelling of Old Spice, I almost chased him down the street, just to hear him say, “hi.” My French self thought, Who calls their husband an “awesome guy”?

The dueling selves she speaks of points to a tantalizing question: Is the you that exists in one linguistic context different from the you that exists in another? Speakers of multiple languages often believe so.

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