Americans are known for their ability to talk to anyone anywhere about just about anything. If they have even a tiny connection with you, they’ll take the opportunity to stop for a gab. I think this is especially true for Americans traveling or living abroad. I’ve been stopped by Americans at the strangest of times in the strangest of places. Once in Beijing to ask if I knew the outcome of an election. I’ve also been practically jumped upon by an American in a small town in Germany who was so happy to hear English she nearly cried.
I, on the other hand, have perfected the ability to slink away when a stranger starts talking enthusiastically to me just because she hears me speaking English. My husband and I have been known to spontaneously switch languages. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to other Americans. And it’s not that I’m a total bitch. The operative word there being ‘total’. No. It’s just that after spending the vast majority of my life living overseas, I’m not always in the mood to yet again tell a stranger I will never see again my life story. Also, I don’t identify very strongly as American (but that’s another blog post). I do love meeting and hearing stories from others. I do. Really! But a quick two-minute interaction in a market on a back street in Beijing doesn’t lead to the interesting life revelations that I can steal borrow for my writing.
Also, I have been conned more than once by someone speaking English acting overenthusiastic and excited to hear me speak English when, in actually, it was a conman trying to get me to buy a fake Rolex or visit their cousin’s shop or take a day trip in their taxi or whatever. This has made me extremely cautious. Before I can find out what con they are pulling, I’m out of there!
It’s more than a little surprising then, that I seem to come home from every, single taxi trip having had an in-depth conversation with the driver. In all honesty, this may be somewhat due to the fact that I tend to take taxis when I’ve had a glass of wine or two. Wine makes me mouthy, apparently. But why does this keep happening – even when I’m sober? I’ve come to realize that taxi drivers are one of the most diverse groups of people in my city. I’ve met just about every demographic you can image.
Yesterday, I had another lovely conversation with a taxi driver. As soon as I walked up to the taxi, he reached forward and moved the passenger seat back indicating that I was welcome to join him upfront. Naturally, I took him up on that offer. We immediately fell into conversation when he heard my name and declared it meant valuable jewel or something flattering like that. It was obvious from his use of Dutch that he wasn’t a native speaker. I asked him where he was from. After he told me he was a refugee from Afghanistan, I asked how he liked Holland. He told me: I’m safe. He then declared his appreciation for the government for taking him in. As a guest here, he plans to adopt to the culture and learn the language. I asked how he felt about Dutch (he speaks Afghan, Persian, Russian, Arabic and a bit of English, he said). When he said he had problems with understanding when to use which definite article, I proceeded to give him all my tips and tricks.
And that’s how a quick taxi ride lead to me giving an impromptu Dutch lesson to an Afghan refugee. Maybe I shouldn’t always run the other way when strangers introduce themselves…