“We desperately don't want to experience shame, and we're not willing to talk about it. Yet the only way to resolve shame is to talk about it. Maybe we're afraid of topics like love and shame. Most of us like safety, certainty, and clarity." ~Brene Brown~
Brene is speaking a word here SMH. But here we are talking about it!
Nothing humbles you more than being in a foreign land and being at the mercy of the people who truly inhabit it. You don't feel completely safe, certain, or clear but it does get better. I have been abroad for 10 days now and the growth experience has been REAL. I started this journey in Paris, France. Paris is amazing, filled with so much beauty, history, and culture. The French are indeed proud of their country and heritage and if you are nice and present as wanting to know more they will be nice to you. I had nothing but a great experience in France despite what I was told before leaving the States. But there were some difficult things. Being a black woman in the States is something I know. It is something I am familiar with. I know what that comes with. Being a black woman with red locs in a city where I am even more of a minority among the small number of people there that are of color brought up some insecurities for me indeed. When navigating things that were unfamiliar I often found myself trying to guess what people were thinking. I often felt like they were thinking while staring at me “what is this black woman doing? She clearly doesn’t know what she is doing and clearly doesn’t speak the language?” Sometimes this thought would come just before someone walked up to me to ask me what I needed or how they could help. Sometimes that help never came and I was left with the choice to advocate for myself and my needs or leave (fight or flight.) Sometimes I stayed. Sometimes I left based on what I felt I had the energy to do in the moment. The moments I chose to stay were truly growth moments for me. It is where I was able to recognize, feel, and receive the compassion that people offered to me. It was when I felt the most proud of myself for hanging in there and showing up for myself and what I needed in the moment. It was when I was able to enjoy what I came for. Leaning in was good for me.
The other part of being in a different country is the constant vulnerability that happens. You don’t know where you are going, you are vulnerable. You don’t know how to speak the language, you are vulnerable, you don’t know how the grocery store works, you are vulnerable. I had a lot of shameful moments in Paris but the grocery store takes the cake. After realizing the store had a level below and above I loaded up my hand basket and got in line. There wasn’t a conveyor belt like there is in the States. There is a small conveyor belt that rolls things up to the cashier and she rings them up and a small conveyor belt rolls them back to you to bag on your own if you want to (you have to pay for your bag). I had no clue that the process so I just handed my entire basket to the lady. Oooooweeeee the side eye she gave me was STRONG. She proceeded to dump the things out on the conveyor belt. I was so ashamed. I automatically felt like she may have felt like I was being disrespectful. I started to apologize profusely. She was speaking in French and I didn’t know what she was saying. I just wanted her to know I didn’t mean to do it, that I didn’t know. I finally got checked out and I walked home thinking about how much I hated that feeling and more than anything I hated how I may have made her feel. I could have gotten defensive and written it off as one of those “well I didn’t know, I’m not from here” moments but I really wanted to sit with it. Sure enough I didn’t know how to properly check out and that was okay because had I known then I would have done it differently and from now on I will. But I truly felt ashamed. I took the time to forgive myself for what I didn’t know. I praised myself for learning something new and instead of stowing that away amongst my shame tapes, I can count it as a learning experience as opposed to a shameful one. I went back to the store a few days later and made sure the same lady was my cashier. When I walked up she smiled and I checked out the correct way followed by several “merci beaucoups” and “au revoirs”. A beautiful lesson in how really acknowledging shame and processing it can turn into something else, like gratitude. Paris was a gem. I look forward to visiting again. I am now in Firenze and the trip here started with opportunities to work through shame. I was rolling my bags throughout the streets lost, tired, and confused. I was humbled more than anything. The people I passed stared at me and some smiled. I was struggling. But I had to keep going. Eventually I figured it out and was able to go enjoy my day. Grace and compassion have been my greatest companions on this trip. Excited to see what lessons I learn next. Until then, addio per ora. La vita é bella.