This will probably surprise a lot of people. Even those who know me well. I’m frightfully shy. I’ve often made others speak for me. At restaurants, at stores, you name it. Not always though. It’s not consistent, and doesn’t follow any type of schedule that I’ve ever figured out. I don’t know where it comes from but it’s rather annoying.
One place though where I know it gets amplified is when I have to speak a language other than English. If I can’t say something perfectly I freeze. I know it’s silly since native speakers generally are pleased you are at least trying to communicate with them in their native language.
Then I moved to Tajikistan. A place where my spotty Spanish would be absolutely no help. A place where English is rarely spoken outside the Embassy. A place where Tajik rules and Russian takes second for spoken languages.
I had two choices really. Stand on deck and be shy and scared for the next two years, or dive in figure out if I could swim.
I chose the third option. Wade in a little ways, realize the water’s fine, and jump in.
It started small. My small and quiet спасибо (thank you) while out to dinner. Tajiks are by and large very kind, friendly people. The waiter LOVED that he could count on me to say “thank you” every time he brought us anything. It made me feel good that he understood me. My confidence grew.
Then I learned how to navigate the markets. It’s a lot simpler than I built it up on my head. Lots of pointing, smiling, and “один кило пожалуйста” and suddenly I could fill my backpack with groceries.
Then without warning I was able to understand at least some of what a random woman on the street was asking me. She heard a friend and I speaking English and wanted to know where we were from. I wasn’t a perfect interpreter by any means but we were at least able to tell her we were from DC.
Do I still feel shy? Absolutely. But now when it flares up I just need to remind myself: come on in, the water’s fine.