Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Playing in Different Languages

Looking at spending some more time in airports and traveling around here in the near future.

First up this week is a short trip back up to the New England area with Vera for a couple of days, during which stretch we may make a quick visit to NYC for the first time in a while. Then later this week I’ll be tripping over the Atlantic to join the crew helping cover the EPT Deauville event in France.

I’ve mentioned here a few times before how Vera and I spent a year living in France some time back. We lived in Lille (in the north, near Belgium), which isn’t that far from Deauville (still the north, but on the west side).

French is actually the only foreign language I’ve ever seriously studied, other than Latin (which doesn’t really come up so often). I can muddle through an article written in French or kinda sorta follow a television program or movie. During our year there I could sometimes even follow a conversation if the speakers weren’t talking too fast. Thus was I able at least to get what I needed at the tabac or pâtisserie, although I remember usually having to repeat myself a few times.

I can’t really claim to have learned the language, and a lot of the time my trying to speak or follow others felt a little like playing a game. Thankfully Vera is fluent, and so more often than not that year she would be speaking for me.

It was a fun year we had in France. We were in graduate school at the time, and I was pretending to work on a dissertation but in fact spent the time writing most of what became the first draft of Same Difference. Meanwhile Vera taught at the university and I was essentially a house husband, a job which I recommend highly.

Whenever I’ve traveled on any of these other poker-related trips and find myself in non-English speaking countries, my first instinct is to think of French words and phrases even though the language spoken in these places hasn’t been French (except in Morocco, here and there). I suppose that’s a fairly common experience -- that is, when in a foreign land, involuntarily thinking of the only foreign language one knows even though doing so is of no particular use.

Such an instinct might apply when being exposed to new poker games. You have a “native” game (say, no-limit hold’em). Then you try to play a new game (say, pot-limit Omaha or fixed limit HE) and your first instinct there might be to “speak” or pursue strategies learned in your native game. Eventually you discover those strategies don’t work so well and you begin to learn that second game.

Anyhow, the phenomenon I’m describing would surface when you move on to try still more games. Say you started with NLHE, then learned limit hold’em. Then you moved on to try stud, and initially find yourself “speaking” LHE until you start figuring out the significant differences between those two games.

Perhaps the games have something in common (e.g., stud and LHE both featuring fixed limit betting) that help you a little, just as I might hear some Spanish words when I’m in Lima that resemble French enough to seem familiar. But eventually if you really want to “communicate” in that game you have to learn its special “language.”

Anyhow, like I say I’m most looking forward to my upcoming voyage back to France. It will be fun going back and being reminded of things I experienced before.

Indeed, I’m sure to experience a lot of déjà vu.

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