On Friday I had my first "real" conversation in German. I was sitting in a lobby, waiting for Tall Guy to pick me up, when an old woman sat down next to me. She starting speaking, and I said "Entschudigung bitte, aber ich verstehe nur ein wenig Deutsch" (Excuse me, but I understand only a bit of German). "Kein Problem", she replied, and kept speaking, but more slowly.
I learned that her family had lived on opposite sides of the Berlin wall, that she has a son who lives in Poland, and she's glad to have moved from Berlin to a small village near Darmstadt (I should go to Darmstadt, she said, but not to her village - too boring and ugly). I told her I was Canadian, that Tall Guy was Spanish, and that we would be here for his work until December.
Her ride showed up, and she left. She told me I spoke pretty well. I think that was a bit of a white lie, but holding a conversation in German (with someone who is not paid to understand me) was quite motivational. Later in the day, I was reading Peter Hessler's River Town and this passage really appealed to me:
In the spring I had sensed that the benefits [of living in China] were starting to outweigh the difficulties, and mostly it was a matter of developing patience and trust. I had to allow things to happen - if somebody approached me, I talked with him, and I accepted virtually any invitation.
Too often, even in our own language, we hide our heads in a book or a newspaper, or jam headphones into our ears, avoiding small talk at all costs. How much richer would we be if we just opened up a little?