While deep in conversation with my Japanese friend in French, I was abruptly stopped by a woman holding a camera.
“I’m sorry, do you mind taking a photo of us?” A British woman stood near, speaking haltingly, as if she wasn’t sure what language I spoke but hoped to god I could handle English. I glanced over to where she gestured. Already perched in position on the rail in front of the lake was the rest of her family, a giant of a man with two fidgety blond boys.
“Oh, of course!” I responded. Her eyes lit up when she heard my distinct American accent; she explained that she had stopped me because I held a DSLR too. I empathized, knowing how hard it was to instruct people on how to use it for those times when you’re just sick of looking like a fool for taking a selfie.
After taking probably the best photo they have, the man took his camera from me and started to talk to me. Are you studying abroad? Oh, that’s a great experience! I studied abroad here when I was a student and so I’m visiting friends here now. Yeah! How do you like it so far? Oh, well you have a great trip! I was taken aback; wasn’t this a little excessive conversation with just someone who took a family photo for them? I just wanted to bolt and leave! I’d already done my duty—WHAT MORE DID HE WANT?
Finally, we said our goodbyes and I walked away from the man and his family, a little puzzled. Something had felt off and I didn’t know why. They were a nice family, the American man with his British wife, which always lead me to wonder where they live and how many languages their children speak; however, I had been busy trying to extricate myself from the conversation as soon as possible in order to move on with my own plans.
Weird. I thought about how, had I been back in the states, I would have fully engaged this charming couple, asking for restaurant and activity recommendations from someone who had spent time as a temporary local in Madrid. And yet I hadn’t been interested in doing the same here for some reason.
Then I realized: I had been experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock. The way they questioned me felt more like an interrogation than a simple conversation; it felt a bit forced, too aggressive. And I had been taken aback.
This made me question a few things about myself, like why was I this strange, awkward stranger-talker in Europe? I knew that I had assimilated a few French cultural quirks like meal portions or the volume of my voice in public places. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, this development. There are different cultural connotations associated with different actions and in Europe, people keep more to themselves (depending on country).
However, this experience made me realize that I may have changed more than I thought. (More on this in the future… )
Change is always a strange thing. There are conscious changes and changes that happens unnoticed until it’s significant. Or, like this day, you get slapped in the face with realization. But it’s always interesting to trace where this change began and how you’ve arrived at a point like this. I always feel like I’m already fully developed and almost the best version that I could be, but I am constantly proven wrong. How much more are we going to change in the future?