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Saturday, August 1, 2009


One of the fewmore interesting words I remember from my French course in July is “dépaysé,” which is used to describe how you might feel when you travel to a foreign country where you feel a bit disoriented. The way our teacher explained, it is the antonym to “déjà vu,” or something that you know too well, and thus is too familiar and, presumably, of little interest.

The reason why I was so fascinated by this little word is that it has a very positive meaning in French. Apparently, to feel disoriented is something to be desired when you travel. This was difficult to grasp at first and, although I now get it semantically, I am still intrigued by it.

To my rational mind, a state of disorientation is something to be avoided at all costs. I rarely travel without a guidebook, more often with a map as well and, when possible, with an A-Z of street names, just in case. You might say that I am at the totally opposite end of disoriented (can you be super-oriented? Superpaysé?). I adore maps, I am very good at reading them and I like to navigate. Why would I not want to be oriented?

Ok, I suppose I am taking the word a bit too literally—it probably doesn’t mean that you don’t know where you are when you are “dépaysé.” I guess it’s just a striking change of scenery, which is exciting and positive, in which case ‘disoriented’ may not be the most accurate way to translate it to English because it has a negative tone to it. Or does it? Maybe it’s just negative to me? Perhaps other people enjoy feeling lost/disoriented?

Call me analboring but I’m sticking with my maps.


spudballoo said...

Fascinating...for myself, I can't stand to be depayse (can't find the accents on my keyboard). Like you, I need maps, routes...I need to know where I am and where I'm going, especially when abroad. But then Im a creature of habit and, despite having been all around the world, I like being at home, the familiar, the best.

Much looking forward to meeting you by the way! I won't mind being depayse for that...!

B said...

I'm like that, I need maps and guide books, but I always let go of them at some point. I don't mind feeling depayse for a while if I know I can return to my map to see what I am if I need to!

Polly said...

Yes, this is a nice word and I can totally understand the temptation of getting lost a little bit: walking into a maze and enjoying the process of finding the way out, or stepping into those little alleys in Venice and just diving in, without a plan, excited about what's around the corner.

But in truth I also never leave without a map and I very rarely get lost anywhere. I have a little GPS inbuilt in my brain, or maybe it's because my parents are civil engineers, I'm very good at finding my way around. I can't remember feeling dépaysé for a long time now.

Great post!

Jelica said...

I also like to take the less frequented paths, Polly--when we were in Venice years ago we just went into the little alleys, far away from tourist crowds, and enjoyed roaming around. But you can't really get lost in Venice :)

So, the same as you, B, I don't really go around with my nose in the guidebook and the map--in fact, I like to do the reading beforehand and not while I am trying to see something--but the fact that the map is at hand, safely tucked in my tote, is very reassuring.

Spudballo, I'm totally looking forward to this depayse-tion, too!