Five years ago, when I just came to the US, English was a huge challenge to me. Although I had studied English for more than 10 years in China, I still had a hard time to understand native English speakers. I had to ask them to slow down and clarify words and phrases, as I needed to spent time thinking and replying in English: my brain accepted the English sentences, translated them into Chinese, then I understood them and crafted my replies in Chinese, translated them into English, and finally I slowly replied with English, often with lots of grammar errors. I felt sad that my years of English learning can’t stand the reality test at all.
At that time, I had three roommates, one guy and two gals, all Chinese. It was a Saturday, we hung out around school and planned to have some fast food nearby. We went into a Burger King and stood right inside the door. We all stared at the menu up over the counter, and observed how others ordered food — none of us ordered a burger in the US before. I was thinking, who’s going first? Can I even understand what cashier will say? Will he understand what I say? Would it be too embarrassing if it takes me too long to order? What if others laugh at me?
Five minutes passed, no one had the courage to step forward. Then, one of us suggested: “This is too bad, don’t you guys think we’re blocking the door?”
And we left!
We wandered around. We found a place to sit. We chitchat. We sweated under the sun. Everyone was so hungry and it was too late to go back home and cook. We stood up and walked into a Wendy’s. We still didn’t know how to order.
We pushed the only guy in the team forward, asked him to order his food and be our example. He said “ok, ok” and walked to the counter. He stood there for a few minutes and came back with a burger, alive. After that, the rest of us stepped forward and ordered ours one by one. I spoke slowly. I asked them to clarify what they meant by “combo”. They were very friendly and no one thought I was funny.
I finally got my burger combo — a burger, French fries and a coke — my first fast food ordering in the US, ever! I was so happy! I had to enjoy this victory. I took at least three bites to finish every single French fry. I cleared the plate. I finished off my coke to the last drop.
I laughed at myself silently. I worried too much about falling down before I even tried to make a forward step. Nobody embarrassed me — I overwhelmed myself with my own thoughts.
From then on, I started to open myself up, go to more events, talk to more people, and learn to laugh at my own embarrassing moments. It takes time, but I can feel the change.
Now, as my English gets better and better and ordering food is no longer a problem (wink!), I still remember that embarrassing yet delicious victory. It will be safely stored in my memory palace, and once in a while, come back up and encourage me to worry less while trying to make a step forward.