Conversations with Strangers

If you know me, you know I am not the extroverted type. I mostly dislike meeting new people and wear my “do not talk to me” face out every single day. Along with it I usually carry a book and keep my headphones on even when my phone has run out of battery and there’s no music playing out of them. Anything to discourage strangers from approaching me.

This small phobia of mine has increased since moving to Germany, where strangers would not only talk to me, but potentially do it in GERMAN. I mean, if I think about that long enough I am tempted to make a fort under my duvet and hide until further notice. But, in spite of all my efforts, sometimes strangers DO talk to me, mostly they are asking for directions, or, proving that sexism is still very much present in this lovely society of ours, catcalling me. Some other times, however, the interactions are funny, interesting, or (my favourite) awkward for other people other than me.

So that’s what this post is about. Inspired by the lovely Audrey from Brunch at Audrey’s, I compiled my favourite interactions with strangers. Who knows? Maybe this helps me overcome my fear of being approached? (probably not).

1. The Lost Child

Let’s start with one that combines two of my fears: talking to strangers, and little kids. This particular encounter took place when I was.. 20, 21? I was in line in one of the many Starbucks in the center of Madrid, trying to figure out the code for “small hot chocolate” (can someone explain to me how “Tall” means “Small” in Starbucks language?) when someone held my hand. Confused I looked down and found a little kid (I wanna say 5? 6? years old) saying “Mummy?”. It only took the child a second to figure out I was not his “mummy”, to let go of my hand and find his actual “mummy” who was right behind me. It took me approximately 3 years to get over the fact that a 5 year old child had deemed me old enough to be his mother.

2. The Spanish Radar

Fast forward a year or two and I was in Hamburg, studying abroad. This story was the first one that came to mind when reading Audrey’s post, so I might as well just copy and paste my comment on her blog.

” I was leaving a grocery store with a friend of mine, and we were both silently taking our bags from the carts and putting on our coats. As I put on mine I flipped my hair so it would fall outside of the coat and an older lady (around 60) walks by and tells me in Spanish: you are Spanish, right? Confused (since I hadn’t talked and wasn’t wearing my flamenco dress on that particular day) I say: …yes? The lady nods and answers “that hair flip” as if this were a tell-tale sign of my origins, and walks away. “

To this day I still stare at Spanish women looking for a distinctive way in which they flip their hair, and I still have nothing. If any of you can shine any light on this very relevant issue, please do.

3. The chatty granny

This falls under my favourite category, as it was mostly awkward for other people (Aka my boyfriend) and not for me. We were on our way to Oktoberfest with the subway, and amidst all the tourists in lederhosen, and the people that were already drunk at 11 in the morning, there was an old lady carrying a suitcase. Fletcher, as the polite gentleman that he is, offered to help the woman get the suitcase onto the escalator, with the intention of holding it all the way up, since it was too big, and it may have fallen otherwise. When he first offered the woman replied with a cheerful “Danke” and we thought that was that. But oh no it wasn’t.

As soon as we started moving the lady proceeded to make what must have been amicable small talk, only Fletcher didn’t understand any of it, and couldn’t bring himself to interrupt the lady. So he just nodded and smiled for what felt like forever turning redder and redder as we continued to ascend. In the meantime, I stood behind the lady smirking instead of helping. Evil? You tell me.

4. Saved by the Newspaper

During my first winter in Munich, I was heading to the airport to fly to Madrid for Christmas, while Fletcher was catching a different train to meet me there. During that time I had an iPhone 6 that had been completely fine in Spain, but that (very much like me) didn’t know how to cope with the German winter, and had a tendency to turn off when it was too cold for its liking. So of course on that particular evening it shut down, careless of the fact that I needed to get in touch with my boyfriend to figure out where exactly we were meeting in the airport.

Queue me freaking out. I was in a train, with no access to a payphone or a charger, forced to face my fear. I had to talk to a stranger to call Fletcher. I scanned the train for friendly-looking people, people that already had their phones out and no headphones on. I used my harmless face and my sweetest voice, and I was still told “no” twice.

I retreated to my corner of the train defeated, thinking that was that, I had tried to talk to strangers and it didn’t work, and then I saw it. A guy around my age reading a newspaper… in Spanish! I approached him and he was super nice and let me call my boyfriend and even stayed with me until we found each other at the airport (he was also taking the same flight). The interaction itself was not so interesting, but this is a story about how I overcame my fears, and grew as a person and all that.

5. Sevillian Stereotype

On the Spanish note, let’s keep the last one short and sweet (since you are probably still processing that deep character development from the previous story). We were in Sevilla, and I was teaching Fletcher how the accent from Andalucía differs to the one from Madrid. I walked him through the basics and taught him two special words.

Miarma: (Mi alma but with an accent). Similar to dear or darling, literally translated means “My soul”

Ámono: Instead of “Vámonos” is how some people in the south pronounce “come on”

So the last day, as we are walking to the train station and I was struggling to carry my suitcase through the cobblestone, a very Andalusian looking woman that is crossing our way claps as encourages me:

” Ámono miarma que tu puedeh! ” (Come on, dear, you can do it!)

I loved being able to prove to Fletcher how spot on my teachings had been, but also the warmth of the people in the south of Spain, that they will go out of their way just to encourage you.

Are you also afraid of talking to strangers? What have been your funny/interesting interactions with stragers lately? I would love to know!