I’m writing later than usual today because I did something totally different with my morning: I went to school! I got up early, put on proper clothing and even makeup, then I met my French friend S at the bus stop to ride the bus to school together. She teaches at the French lycee here, and I agreed to come in and be a guest speaker at two of her morning English classes.

I’ve been incredibly, irrationally nervous about this all week, to the point of losing sleep over it two nights ago. Despite the fact that I come from two very accomplished public speakers, I have never felt comfortable in front of people. My piano recitals as a child were total agony, and you remember the tales of my birthday mishaps through the years — catching my hair on fire, or almost having a panic attack when everyone sung me happy birthday. I hate it when everyone’s looking at me, and I much prefer to be behind the scenes, watching everything. The only way I was able to get through my wedding was by plastering a smile on my face and just barreling through on nerves alone.

Nerves aside though — or perhaps because of them — I seem to do a pretty good job of performing in front of people. After my maid of honor speech at a friend’s wedding a few years back, people were coming up to me for the entire reception and saying how my speech had brought them to tears.

PS: I have NO CLUE what I said. None at all. It didn’t help that I’d downed a huge glass of wine after the ceremony was over, before eating anything, and then discovered — whoops — that my speech was going to be far earlier in the reception than I’d anticipated. But even had I been totally sober, I wouldn’t have remembered it, just like I don’t remember much of our wedding. It’s all a blur, as if it happened to someone else entirely — I guess that’s the price I pay to get through such an event without freaking out.

So, needless to say, even though rationally I know it’s not a big deal, talking in front of a classroom full of thirteen year olds is still enough to give me a bad case of nerves. When my friend invited us to come and speak to her class, I agreed, assuming Gabe would come with me and I could do what I always do, i.e. let him do the talking while I do the watching. But he backed out at the last minute, as his project here is coming down to the critical point in our final months here, and he needs as many days at work as he can get. I didn’t want to let my friend down though, so I swallowed my fear and went.

Of course once I got there, it was fine. The kids were all awestruck by meeting a real live American, and a Californian to boot, and peppered me with questions for the entire hour that I was allotted with them. Their English was excellent, far better than my Portuguese, and of course they also spoke French fluently as well, and some German. They really put American kids to shame.

The stereotypes their questions displayed were by far the most interesting and telling part of the exercise. Have you ever met any celebrities? (Well, I am related to one, but I don’t know Brad Pitt or anything.) Do you see any celebrities on the street? (No, that’s LA.) Are your buildings very big? (The same as Lisbon.) How do you find the food here? (Not a fan of bacalhau, which made them laugh, but I love me some pasteis de Belem.) Is it true that everyone eats fast food all the time and gets really fat? (Umm… no.) Is it dangerous to live there? (No, that’s LA.) Do you have the death penalty in California? (I was impressed by that one.) And my favorite: is there any tension between America and Britain because of the war of independence? (No, I think we’re pretty much beyond that.)

The second class was much quieter than the first, but I soon got them going by asking them about their favorite things to do in Lisbon. I told them that my sister in law and her family are visiting next month, and asked where I should take them while they’re here. Many suggestions for ice cream shops, aquariums, and beaches ensued, and their shyness soon wore off a little more.

Both classes were absolutely fascinated by my Kindle, which I brought to show them along with some of my mom’s books. They had never seen such a thing, and every one of them looked at it wide-eyed, as if I were holding a piece of the Holy Grail. I spend so much of time reading about the publishing world and the endless debate over ebooks, and it’s easy to forget that most people have never seen an e-reader, even in America. If I hadn’t won their hearts already, after that it was a sure thing.

The two classes flew by, and I bid my friend S adieu as she hurried to her next class. I walked home through the hot afternoon, marveling at how hoarse my voice had become and how totally drained I was after just two short hours. I spend most of my week alone in my little hobbit hole, with only Gabe or my own thoughts for company, so to spend two full hours “on” in front of people was a big change. I’m not sure how my teacher friends do it, day in, day out, but I admire them greatly for doing so.

So I have sixty new friends — or fans — here in Lisbon, all of whom have been assigned to write me a letter or postcard for their homework over the weekend. I can’t wait to get them! But all that attention is exhausting, so now it’s back to the hobbit hole, and my normally scheduled programming.

Perhaps after I take a nap…

Advertisements