Today’s adventure in stranger danger brought to you by the Madison Public Library.
Frankly, I consider it remarkable self control that I have been in Madison almost 3 weeks and yet managed to resist visiting the public library until today. (If you want something even more incredible, I spent an hour there and didn’t leave with a single book.) However, today I broke down and decided a trip to the library was in order.
The visit started off normally. I picked up my library card, checked out the Young Adult section (disappointing), and was pleasantly surprised by the Adult Fiction selection (so many Georgette Heyer books! And mysteries!) My meandering eventually led me to the foreign language section. The Madison Public Library has an impressive selection of foreign language material, ranging from Czech and Yiddish to Russian and Mandarin Chinese. I was standing there admiring it when a guy somewhere in his mid 20’s came rushing around the corner. At first glance I assumed he was just really eager to find a book. Then he said,
“Ahhhhh, ummm, are you looking for anything in particular?”
He didn’t look like a librarian, so I just smiled politely and told him I was ‘just browsing.’
“Ahhh….yes….” a long pause, “I’m teaching myself German.”
I must have smiled or in someway acknowledged this remark because, after another pause, he rushed on. “Ah, I have already taught myself Norwegian and French. I mean Portuguese. Eventually I am going to learn Greek and Lithuanian and French and…and Latin.”
Feeling this sudden confession deserved a response, I responded, “This library has a very large selection. I am sure that helps.”
“It does! They have so many languages.” And he proceeded to list all of the ones around us. “Oh, by the way, I’m Dave.”
“Amy,” I said, wondering where all this was going. Was he going to try and sell me something?
“Yes…ahh, nice to meet you. This is a very good section. Look, they even have Yiddish. And Japanese. Lots of novels in Japanese. I went to college in Oshkosh. I took Spanish there. Like two years of it. I’ve lived in Madison two years. Oh look, there is Hindi.”
He continued to ramble, primarily about languages. He told me he considered learning languages on his own way more efficient than learning it in a class, because this way he didn’t have to take quizzes. He mentioned an interest in Italian. This went on for at least ten minutes. By this point, I realized he probably wasn’t trying to sell me anything and he definitely didn’t work for the library. I found his linguistic claims doubtful but listened politely. Looking back now, the situation doesn’t seem at all that intimidating (if anything, rather funny) but I felt uncomfortable and decided to trust my gut. I told him I was headed downstairs to look at the children’s section. He offered to show me the way and as soon as possible, I slipped out of the building.
And so for the second time in two days, I have had an unusual run-in with a complete stranger. I wonder if it will ever stop being a little weird? It is hard to find a balance between wariness and warmth. I want to be approachable, and yet I also want to be smart about it.