I was standing in line at the grocery store and moved slightly to allow someone to pass in the very crowded store. All of a sudden I heard a loud crash right next to me and saw a case of 6 wine bottles on the floor, at least 2 of them broken.
Let me repeat, this was very loud.
I had that feeling in my stomach like you have when you're a little kid (or at least I had when I was a little kid) of fear of getting in trouble mixed with knowing that I really didn't mean to do anything wrong.
People in the long lines around me looked at me. One lady even said something, but I didn't understand it. Through the filter of my embarrassment and language and culture confusion, I tried to guess whether she had said something kind, such as "Why do they stack those in such a high traffic area?" or whether she had said something else, such as "I'm glad that wasn't me. You'll have to pay for it."
What's culturally accepted here? Do I pay for things in a store that I damage unintentionally? I suddenly felt very foreign.
Despite feeling that hours had passed, no one moved and no store employees showed up to start cleaning.
What was expected? Was I supposed to go find cleaning supplies? Was I supposed to go find a store employee and figure out how to communicate what had happened and offer to help?
I am finding that in moments like these, I am frozen. I don't say anything. I'm lost. I feel stupid. I know that in the US I would be able to quickly respond, say something clever to the people around me, smooth things over with the store employees. But here, I am reduced to silent embarrassment.
Finally, a cashier stood up and asked what happened and thankfully someone else filled her in. Someone came to clean it up. I stood there the whole time, silent, but waiting for someone to ask who had done this. I was ready to step forward, but no one did. I continued moving forward in the line, wondering if I was being very rude, but not knowing how to say anything to anyone.
It's episodes like this that remind me just how different "there" is from "here". It's humbling to enter "there", to attempt to understand and fit in. To not interpret the discomfort I feel at times as "bad", but rather as "normal".
No one can tell from the outside that I'm not from "there" (or rather "here" to them). Perhaps next time you are in a situation where it seems that a person is not responding as you would expect, pause and imagine they are not from "here". This principle can be applied not only to culture, but to families and personalities and so many other things.
We live in a very diverse world. This can be uncomfortable at times, and in times of embarrassment or confusion, I just want to go back to a place where I feel comfortable. But there is so much more than the moments I feel uncomfortable. And the more comfortable I am with being uncomfortable, the more opportunities I have to learn and understand - the new culture I'm living in, the language, the people around me.
*I have since learned that here you are expected to pay for things you break. I have been much more careful with my bag.