A brief guide on how not to talk to people from a different country
I had three unsolicited interactions last Friday.
I like to sit away from people on the bus. I like to either listen to music and dream up choreography I’ll never be able to replicate or I like to read books and forget about whatever stressed me out that day. I don’t like to talk to people on a loud bus. I only like talking to people (on a loud bus) if I can Facetime them at 2 am to ask one sentence questions like: What day is it tomorrow?
Here’s my secret, I actively avoid people on the bus. Yeah, everyone does this, but no-one does it better than me. I see everything and everyone. I know everyone’s build, what the back of their head looks like, how their muscles move when they walk. I could spot you a mile away if my glasses are on; which they always are. I know when you come on to the bus and I know if you looked me right in the eye (and recognised me) before you sat down. I see all of these things from my very advantageous seat at the back of the noisy bus and I choose to ignore it.
I choose to ignore you.
I need you to understand something. I have a heart that’s heavier than my head and that’s saying something. I usually commit to being a giving person, I do that 96% of the time. The only times I don’t give anything are when I’m on the bus, when I’m walking down a hallway or sidewalk, when I’m eating some good food, when I’m about to sleep or do something I find categorically more important than you. I am not going to say hi to you on the bus. If I wanted to, I would have already been deep in conversation with you. If I did, there’s an 85% chance I felt forced to.
The smile under my mask that you can’t see is fake. Entiendes?
So when I’m forced to have THREE UNSOLICITED CONVERSATIONS. ON. THE. BUS. In one day, I’m going to feel very emotionally exhausted in between. I’m also not going to recount it very fondly or respectfully. 2 out of the 3 encounters were grown-ass boring men talking to me about things I had heard before; yes I don’t speak Igbo… yes it’s a shame… yes my hair is long and red… yes it took me four days to get it done…
It was the first of these encounters that gives me a reason to write this. Here is something that Midwesterners need to know.
I am an international student but my world isn’t smaller than yours. It’s not oppressive, it’s not minimal. It’s not mediocre and it’s not bland. I am not impressed by you or your country. I do not need you to teach me anything, I am paying $40,000 a year to learn it already.
I am also not speaking for other International students, but I think it’s important to let you know that I am aware that when I say I’m from Nigeria, I am immediately like Alice when she drinks that stupid little drink and shrinks down to the size of a doll. So I want to use this space, my little corner of the internet to let you know that I am not tiny or dainty, I don’t need to be shown the wonders of the world. Everything you are explaining to me I know already, I’m nodding and waiting for you to shut up so I can go back to my book.
I am an international student and because of that my world is so big. I have to stay informed merely as a survival technique. I have also been lucky enough to be exposed to minute corners of the world and dropped into vast, bubbling spaces.
And this may not mean much to you as you explain obvious social cues to me but I only ask, as you interrupt my peace of mind, tell me something I don’t know.