I think I grew up pretty shy. Or at least my grandma kept telling me I was shy. I was nervous to talk to people, hated making phone calls (still do), and wasn’t all that adventurous. And of course I was given that advice not to talk to strangers.
As I grow older, and travel more, that barrier to interaction with others has been slowly breaking down. I had to do some internal work on some of it, a lot of talking myself into doing things, and a lot of leaping before I had a chance to see if the water was cold or not.
Coming to Paris alone that first time, and then moving here, really helped force me out of my shell. I had to talk to people I didn’t know. I had to make new friends. And once I started doing it more often, the easier it got.
But I still face resistance. Many times I will be walking along and notice something about a person that makes me want to just run up to them and say, “I think you’re beautiful!” But I don’t. That would be weird, right?
Last week, I was walking in the Marais and passed a young man taping some beautiful photographs to a wall. Elephants, people… I slowed to look, but kept walking. Something in my brain said, “stop and tell him you think they’re beautiful!” And immediately another voice cut it off saying, “no, he’ll try to get you to buy something, keep walking.” I let the voices debate for a few more minutes as I walked on auto-pilot. I finally stopped, feigning interest in my phone so I didn’t look like I’d totally left planet earth and forgot to take my body with me.
Then I turned around.
Silly voice, saying “oh, you’re going to look dumb, walking back, and then turning around again to go in the direction you came from.” I thought about crossing the street, or going around the block. I didn’t though.
I approached him and asked if he had taken the pictures. To my relief, he spoke English, and we began chatting about the photography. He and a friend apparently make an annual 6 month trip to India to take photos. He is from Germany, but travels around a bit, and likes to sell his photographs on the street specifically so that he can have more interaction with people.
Another man stopped to talk for a few minutes, discussing photography with the photographer, whose name I now knew was Peter.
I finally decided to go on my way again, but not without first exchanging email addresses. You never know! I love to keep in touch with interesting people. I also took a photo of the photographer and his work to share with you here. He does not currently have a website or any photos online, but if that changes, I will update this post so you can admire and perhaps buy one of his prints.
Anyway, I felt really good that I listened to the inner voice telling me to step outside of my comfort zone. There are many times I’m in the street and have the thought to tell someone I think their hair is awesome, or I love their coat, or I like their music, but something always stops me. In L.A., I am more inclined to talk to women on the street (or men even) about what they’re wearing, because we’re speaking my native language and I don’t have that fear of simply speaking. But I clam up here. I can’t just say something in passing, because it takes me too long to even form the sentence. And then good luck understanding any response. I’m also told it’s not common here for strangers to just talk to each other like that. As for artists, I feel bad when I can’t buy something from them, or donate. But then again is the language barrier. I am still extremely shy when it comes to speaking French. I need to make much more of an effort to learn and become comfortable with it.
But I really want to. Whenever I think about these things that I “can’t” do because I feel limited by language, it pushes me to work harder. I want to share encouragement with people, put a smile on their faces, interact and make friends, let someone know they’re appreciated in some way, that they’re not invisible and maybe I think they’re wearing a cool hat. I know I appreciate it when I get nice compliments from men in the street (and yes, most of the time they are pleasant compliments! I’ve gotten several on my hair colour, and some on my hats) and I think we all ought to take note that unexpected compliments or words of encouragement are welcomed by nearly everyone.
I know it’s not always a language thing. We can also be afraid of how the other person will react. Or maybe we don’t even know why we’re afraid to talk to people we don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there are any real logical reasons not to (unless they look drunk/angry/crazy). But I guess what we should try to do is just be true to ourselves and let other people react how they will. Most likely, you will get a positive response (or maybe none. Several times I’d get an unexpected compliment in passing, and be too confused about it to react, other than turning to look at the person and smile. Yeah, I’m slow. I also have to go through the translation process to figure out if something was a compliment or not).
So…go talk to some strangers! You’ll meet some amazing people, and there will be one less stranger in your world. 🙂