Settling Down and Fitting In
It aggravates Jared that I have a phone, but I never take it out of the house.
“Look,” I explain. “About four people have my number. Three of them are in the United States. The other one is you.”
I still haven’t adjusted to the fact that I’m entering a lifestyle where it’s normal not only to have a mobile phone, but to use it. Because at some point, I’m going to have to meet people. Make friends. Exchange numbers. Call them.
And it occurred to me that I haven’t had to do that in a long time.
One of the side effects of being an introverted temporary expat in a relationship (it’s a thing) is that if you aren’t motivated to meet anybody, you don’t really have to. The stimulation of your adopted home is often enough to keep you busy, along with your partner, job, phone calls home, and meetups arranged by other local expats.
Slowly, I’m embracing this return to ‘settled’ life in an English-speaking country, and doing things that might result in me talking to and befriending strangers. I’m signing up for a French class and joining the Hunter Writers Centre. This weekend, I attended two sessions as part of the Newcastle Writers’ Festival: one on memoir and one on travel.
The sessions were packed; who knew there were so many established writers, budding writers, and interested readers in Newcastle? All of these ready-made friends that I have something in common with?
Well, maybe we had something in common. I don’t really know because I didn’t talk to anybody. Except during the travel session, when my sunglasses fell off the back of my head and I said “Sorry” and “Thank you” to the woman behind me who retrieved them.
And I realized a really irritating fact that I haven’t been forced to remember in a long time:
I’m kind of shy.
When you’re on the road or working in a new country, it’s easy to come out of your shell. You have to. It’s a survival instinct, in a way. In places where you don’t speak the language or even stick out physically, you’re forced to interact. And you always have ready made conversation starters:
- Where are you from?
- Where have you been?
- Where are you going?
Not the most stimulating or creative questions, but they work.
But in a crowded room full of other people who look like you and talk like you, it’s easy to blend. No one knows you’re foreign; no one will call you out for being different. And if you ask someone out of the blue where they’ve been and where they’re going, it’s weird.
When they asked if anyone had questions at the end of the sessions, I was transported straight back to school. You have questions, my inner voice said. Ask one of them. My heart pounded in my chest and faint beads of sweat developed at my hairline. I worked up the courage to raise my hand.
And then I didn’t.
“So, did you make any friends?” Jared asked, half-joking, when I returned from the writer’s festival.
“No,” I said. “Everyone was kind of old, actually.”
That’s right, it was the other people’s fault that I didn’t talk to them. How dare they be kind of old? (Which, by the way, wasn’t even true, nor is it relevant.)
I’ve lived in six countries, and traveled through many more. I’ve talked with strangers from all over the world, many of whom barely speak English. I’ve worked my way through more obnoxious jobs than I care to remember.
But all of a sudden, in a room full of people with whom I share a common language and interests, I go mute.
This is obviously something I’m going to need to work on. I’m thinking of using pop culture to craft my opening line. Maybe something like this:
So hey – I just met you, and this is crazy…But here’s my number, so call me, maybe?
I’ll be coming out of my shell in no time.