I prefer three things on airplanes if I’m traveling alone: window seats, a good magazine, and no talking. It’s not that I don’t like saying hello or engaging in small talk with my rowmates, but then there’s all this pressure to keep conversation up, when all I really want to do is read or zone out. (I didn’t say it was a quality I enjoy about myself.)
However, despite my fear of conversations with strangers, I’ve sat next to some pretty wonderful people in my travels. The one who really stands out is a German man who made me smile through my tears after takeoff. I was traveling alone to an unfamiliar country for the first time, and I was stressed out, overwhelmed, and terrified. As the plane started down the runway, I started to cry silently. As I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself, I felt a tap on my arm. The man next to me was extending a box of Le Petit Écolier Extra Dark cookies toward me with a sympathetic smile. I took one and thanked him, touched by the sweet gesture. He told me about his family and his job for the first part of the flight as we munched on the cookies. It helped me concentrate on something other than my anxious thoughts.
When the flight attendants announced the in-flight movie’s start, we smiled at each other and the conversation came to a comfortable end. I suspect he preferred quiet travel as well, but recognized a fellow shy person’s need for distraction more. When we arrived in Frankfurt, I stepped off the plane feeling inspired by the fact that a total stranger could be so comforting, and assured that there were more people like him, even in unfamiliar countries.