My head is spinning after a fabulous, action-packed week in France. Jet lag, language barriers, cancelled flights, night train, sightseeing, monuments, mountains, subways, snails, bad coffee, good wine, stinky cheese, long-lost family, laughter, lack of sleep–I’m still sorting it all out.

We thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I didn’t even think about writing (too much); I just soaked it all in. As I sit at my keyboard now and sift through the memories, I keep coming back to one particular lesson I learned, albeit for the zillionth time: sometimes, you don’t need words to communicate.

Before my trip, I found the thought of spending a few days with family who didn’t share a common language somewhat daunting. They really don’t speak English, and other than counting and a few vocab words, I don’t speak French. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how we were going to navigate through the awkward silences I imagined stretching between us.

As so often happens, I was wrong about that. Thinking back on the three days my kids and I spent in the L’Ariege region of southwestern France, I don’t remember awkward silence. What I remember most is the laughter. We ate and drank and smiled and somehow got to know each other. With hands and feet, smartphone translators and pidgin Frenglish, hugs and gestures, we got to know each other. We saw local sights, went shopping, shot baskets, and just hung out at the dining room table. We teased each other a lot. Above all, we had fun, and I left really feeling as if I knew my uncle and cousins better.

We didn’t have words to get in the way, so without thinking, we learned each other’s hearts. The part of the trip that I had found most apprehensive ended up being the most pleasant surprise. Where I expected awkwardness, I discovered bonheur.

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