I get embarrassed easily.
My French isn’t very good, and so when I order my coffee at a café down the street from our flat in Bordeaux I practice in my head thirty times before the server comes. Then when I think I’ve got it down I look around wondering if I’m supposed to go inside to order or if I should just wait. Service in France is slow so I spend a few minutes sitting in indecision, the book I brought to read ignored, my journal still closed. And then she comes and I order.
“Un noisette, s’il vous plait.”
But I stutter and when she smiles and repeats, “Un noisette?” I wonder if I messed it up.
And then I say, “Si,” instead of, “Oui,” and I become more embarrassed.
Maybe she noticed and maybe she didn’t, but either way I’m sure she didn’t care. For whatever reason, though, I care.
I get embarrassed being seen taking pictures. I take this selfie and then glance around, checking to see if anyone saw me. When it doesn’t turn out like I want it I’m too embarrassed to take another.
And then when my coffee is finished, I want to order another. But how to get the attention of a server. I sit there looking around for her, but she seems to have disappeared, gone home, maybe skipped town. There’s another guy who looks like he works here. I could call him over, but it would be embarrassing to wave or even make eye contact too long so I just sit there, wanting more coffee and not having it. I do this for thirty minutes, hoping someone will take pity and ask if I need anything. But that doesn’t happen and then it’s time to go.
But I can’t go until the bill is paid. So I wait a little longer. But then Talia is texting me—“Are you coming home soon?”
I honestly thought about skipping out on the check for a minute. There are other cafés in Bordeaux. I could just avoid this one for the next few weeks.
I stand up, to head inside to pay or to leave without paying, I’m not sure. But then there’s the server, back from whatever cross-country road trip she went on.
Then I make a decision. I look at her for what seems like a minute but is probably about 3 seconds, and finally, she looks back. I say in a quiet voice, but which to me feels like a full-throated war cry, “L’addition s’il vous plait.”
The old ladies in the table next to me rumple their noses and I can’t tell if they’re frowning at me or if it’s the smoke from their cigarettes they’re reacting to or if they’re just naturally grumpy. Regardless, I, of course, am embarrassed.
The server comes and says the amount, which I sort of understand. Then she stands there, waiting. I realize she’s waiting for me, so I scramble through my pockets, hurriedly taking out the contents of one pocket but it’s just US dollars and some headphones. Then I check the other pocket, saying “Desole,” to apologize for making her wait, and it’s not there either. I panic for a moment thinking maybe I lost my cash. How embarrassing would that be! But no I pull out a wad of stuff and pry some euros out between a couple of stray credit cards.
Utterly humiliating. I can imagine the looks on those old ladies’ faces. She takes my money, and I get back up to leave.
Even though I’m exaggerating, and even though I handle my social anxiety pretty well, thank you very much, this kind of thing happens to me all the time, when I travel most of all.
I may be the worst traveller of all time. A literary agent told me recently about the book I wrote about the adventures I accomplished in Paris, “I like the sound of the adventures you did, but I don’t know about the reluctance you say you had to do them.” Sorry, Mr. Agent. Just trying to be real. You want me to lie and say I love feeling like this?
I don’t know why I put myself through it. Actually I do. I live for moments like this to be honest. For me, travel is a moment-by-moment opportunity for every day bravery.
Sometimes I escape embarrassment and sometimes I don’t, but what I try never to do, what we should all try never to do, is escape the situation. Bravery, I’ve learned, is often just sitting around looking awkward, feeling really awkward, until you get the chance to do the right thing. It’s not very glamorous. It’s kind of… well, embarrassing, if we’re being honest. But these little every day moments of bravery take a lot of work.
But when you master something that scares you, even if it’s simple, there’s no better feeling. (And the next time I ordered coffee, I didn’t mess it up!)
How about you? What does an every-day moment of bravery look like for you? Let me know in the comments.