“It could get to be addictive, he believed, not understanding what people were saying. Time spent in another country would probably always be spent misunderstanding a great deal, which might in the end turn out to be a blessing and the only way you could ever feel normal.”
– Richard Ford, “The Occidentals”
The helpless calm of not being able to understand what is going on around you. Advertising doesn’t work; thoughts turn inward. Brains remap, creating back stories for all the signs and symbols surrounded by circles of unreadable characters. No pressure to recognize cultural references — you’re an alien.

Sounds, in the foreign, unfamiliar language, become less distinct. The annoying chat on a cell phone next to you is more white noise. Learn a word or two and that edge of the pattern on the wallpaper of sound starts to show through. It looked prettier before.

Always at a distance from your surroundings, you’re also not at home. For the first time in your life, you can’t fit in; no point trying. This is freeing, in a way, but you’re also a circus animal, at the end of the pointed finger, frozen in place with an ambassadorial smile. You’re outside their society, yet your role is clearly ascribed: foreigner. There is gasping amazement anytime you do anything outside the parameters of the role. She can eat competently with chopsticks! She can drink sake! She can sing Namie Amuro karaoke! (And now so can you.)