15 September 2009

Talk to me

I was perusing the sausages in the meat case at Trader Joe's this morning when a hesitant voice at my elbow said, "Excuse me?"

I turned to a petite woman who waved a package of ground beef at me. "This?" she said, and then pointed at the label where it gave the fat content. "How different from this?" she asked slowly, searching for each word, while pointing at a package with lower fat content.

Clearly English was a struggle for her. I pointed at the package with higher fat content and spoke slowly, "More fat. Good for hamburgers." And I mimed making a patty for good measure.

"Oh! Hamburgers!" she seemed pleased.

We slowly and in few words discussed the merits of higher and lower fat ground beef, whether she should buy the patties premade since that was an option, too. (This is the U.S. Too many choices as my Russian friends liked to say.) I've been in her shoes: in a foreign grocery where I was not particularly adept at the local language, and it's unnerving when a native starts rattling off words faster than one can keep pace. So I spoke slowly--not my strong point--and at the end of a few minutes, she seemed satisfied with the information she'd gotten, though I have no idea if what I told her was actually of any use.

People talk to me. And I'm not talking about people known to me or even the checkers at Trader Joe's who I think must be trained to strike up conversations with the people at their registers. I'm talking about perfect strangers. They stop me on the street while I'm on my morning run, in airports while I'm reading a book, at concerts, in the mall. I give directions, solace, recipes and reading recommendations. In different languages. And it's something that never fails to amaze me.

A couple of years ago, I had one of those random moments of epiphany: I tend to watch my fellow humans with amusement and affection and interest, rather in the way that Milton watches the birds outside the front windows. I watch them like they are TV. I long ago stopped trying to interact with the world at large, and I'm not sure why or how that happened, when I became so isolated and insular.

But it didn't stop the world from trying to interact with me.

(she smiles a sunny smile)

I've spent some time learning to speak the language. And now, world, I may be ready to talk to you.

Go listen to some music: "Talk to Me" from the album Rock a Little by Stevie Nicks. Actually, I'm listening to PT's The Incident and I can't stop listening to "Drawing the Line" and "The Incident." Oh, I do love new music. Yup, that's a hint.

No comments: