This doesn’t mean I can’t make eye contact or that I sit in a corner sucking my thumb. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy conversing with people; in fact, I love hearing people’s stories and figuring out what makes them tick. I just don’t love walking up to strangers in public settings. Or private ones, either. I don’t like parties, but I don’t hole up for days on end without human contact. (Oh, wait. I do.)
Being introverted hasn’t stopped me from SOME kinds of high-risk social behavior. I somehow ended up doing journalism, which was interesting but kind of like being a guppy in a koi pond. Why didn’t I become a kindergarten teacher or a small-town librarian–careers that don’t require, you know, that I actually talk to grown-ups.
And even though I’ve interviewed doctors, scientists, and company kings, I’ll still stand on a street corner, turning my map every which way for 20 minutes before asking that nice man selling newspapers where the subway stop is. I’ll walk into a random seedy restaurant rather than asking someone at the hotel for a recommendation.
Why can’t I be more like my best girlfriend? If she is standing a street corner, she’ll walk up to the first person she sees and ask “Where am I?” and “What’s your name?” and “Oh, are you related to…?”
In some ways my personal quirks make me perfect for solo travel. I don’t mind eating alone or wandering around city streets. In fact, I like being by myself. And I don’t seem to have the normal fear of personal harm from random strangers. I think this comes from once having lived in the middle of Detroit. If I didn’t die there, I’m not likely to in Latin America. Actually, I’m more afraid of tripping over my own feet or having a rock fall on my head (both of which have happened) than of harm from some human miscreant. (Yes, Mom, I know it can happen, and I will be careful.)
But I hang back. I watch the action rather than diving into it. I miss opportunities for engagement. I hesitate. I lose my mojo and slink back to the hotel rather than walk into the bar where the live music is playing.
I want to change this. I want feel more uninhibited and less shy. I want to walk up to that guy on the street corner and ask for directions, in another language if necessary. Maybe strike up a random conversation. Peek into that interesting courtyard. Or just walk around with a smile on my face, for pete’s sake.
And Mexico (where I’m going in a few weeks) is a perfect place to practice.
Mexican people are friendly, by and large. The culture is hugely colorful–all that food and artisanal stuff—basketry, pottery, silverwork, leatherwork, jewelry, coffee, and um, other beverages. All those fiestas.
I’m excited to be going there, and I want to rock that place. I want to feel as though I’ve really seen it, not passed through like a ghost. I don’t want to skulk, and feel stupid, and miss the good stuff. I want to dismantle that annoying barrier between me and this juicy, yeasty, fecund world.
I’m not sure how to make it happen. Shyness is hard-wired–I’m left-handed and I’m shy. I have blue eyes and I’m shy. But I won’t accept that I can’t change, however incrementally. That I’m stuck with the shy gene.
Once, I was on an overlook at a tourist site (La Bufadora) in Ensenada. I was watching all the people milling around below, and the water shooting through the rocks, and I was feeling alone and uncomfortable. Then I realized that by making a mental quarter-turn, I could be watching people mill around at this tourist site in Mexico and that it could be delightful. All I had to do was look through a slightly different lens–the Wow! Isn’t this great lens rather than the I feel so alone and self-conscious one. All I had to do was to turn away from myself. It wasn’t hard.
If only I can remember that.
How about you? Are you shy? How do you deal with it? Or…am I just really weird?
(Shy turtle photo by Amber Summerow)