How talking to a stranger on a train restored my faith in humanity

Today was just one of those days where I was in culture shock.

The funny thing about culture shock is that usually people expect it to be big things – the way the buildings look, or transportation methods. Different ways of dress, or strange food and drink. Those are all differences we expect, and even value in living in a new country.

But I find that it’s often the small things–the nuances–that can cause the most trouble. Because you expect the big things. You recognize them. It’s the small things that catch you off guard, and when they do? It’s a doozy. Just when you feel you’ve adapted to your host culture, something little will show you just how much you don’t really belong.

I don’t want to make too many generalizations about Germans. By no means is everyone in this country like this. But in my experience, situations like this have happened to me far more often here than they did in the States, and my recent month-long stay there made me realize it even more.

We Americans are often very polite to strangers. I addressed it in one of my posts last week, sharing about how I got into a friendly conversation at the hairdresser’s, or even while waiting in line at the store. You’ll hear “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” quite often, and to me, it’s almost second nature. It’s those little phrases that subconsciously put me in a better mood because I feel acknowledged and respected.

Today, one of those little things happened. Tobias and I were at the mall near our house, standing in front of a large menu outside a fast food place, trying to decide what to get. And then a woman walked up and stood in front of me, blocking the sign! I looked over at Tobi, just amazed at how someone could do that. She stayed several seconds longer, apparently also deciding what to eat for lunch, before she moved. Didn’t she see us looking, too? She must have, because she had to stand very close to it in order to even stand in front of me. Hah! To walk in front of us is one thing, but to stand there and look at the sign yourself…give me a break, lady!

I’m not saying this never happens in the States. But similar things have already happened two or three times in the week and a half I’ve been back. And somehow just that small encounter put me in a little bit of a bad mood.

Feeling better


This evening on the train ride home from work, the man in front of me struck up a conversation with me about my bag, and things developed from there. We chatted about bags (his was nice, too!), the news, and learning second languages. Suddenly, there was a smile on my face, and after we parted ways, I smiled to all of the people in the train station as I walked home. Probably looking like a madwoman, because…people don’t really do that in Germany. But I didn’t care! I was instantaneously in a better mood, all thanks to that friendly Turkish man on the train.  We expats have got to stick together!

Happy to be back?

Since I’ve been back, various people have asked me if I am happy to be back. And so far, to be honest, that question has brought tears to my eyes once or twice, because I miss my family. But that’s what it is, being an expat. I just try to take it day to day, and tackle those culture-shock-inducing moments–both small and large–when they come.

My bag, by the way, is from Books A Million. My best friend, Peter, bought it for me a few weeks ago!


3 thoughts on “How talking to a stranger on a train restored my faith in humanity

  1. LOVE the bag! It’s adorable.

    I still can’t get used to the fact that hardly anybody here thanks me for holding a door open for them. It makes my day every time someone actually does!!

  2. Oh man can I RELATE!!!! Today, I was waiting in line for a public bathroom, and another woman just walked right in front of me. Stood there, waited, and when the door opened, she went in!!! Like wait…whoa….what the hell just happened?!?!!? I’ve seen this a lot in Germany.

    And the smiling thing! So funny you say that. I was in Stuttgart and casually smiled at all that were in the same store. A woman came up to me and said, “Are you American? You must be because you’re smiling at strangers!!” So funny!

    • Oh my goodness – that’s so funny she asked you that! I guess we are kind of known for the smiling thing. I had to try hard to train myself out of that when I lived in France because I often got a lot of unwanted attention from the Frenchmen. (At least most times here in Germany, I don’t get hit on all the time!)

      That’s insane about the bathroom, too. I had one lady push in front of me in line once, too. She was very strange, and she didn’t have quite enough money for some orange juice she wanted to order, so she asked me if I could give her some. I’m like, no…not after you pushed in front of me in line, lady! She didn’t seem quite all there, though, if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for your comment! It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one with these types of experiences. 🙂

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