On my way back home via the train this past weekend, I pulled out my German textbook to make the most of my time. The man sitting across from me was watching me work for a bit. Whatever, I thought. It's not uncommon here in Germany for people to be curious (sometimes to the point of staring).
I think he finally couldn't stand it any more. He asked what language I was studying. I was taken a bit aback because people don't usually make small talk with strangers in public here. Once I recovered myself I said it was German and he asked what my native language is (at this point we had been speaking German). Smiling, he pulled out his own textbook, showing me that he is learning English (he's C1, which is starting to become advanced).
We continued the conversation, code switching between English and German. He thought it was nice that I was learning German. He told me that I need some German friends so I could practice German. I responded that I have some really nice German friends but because our conversations can be rather complicated, we usually speak English.
He was just returning from a New Zealand trip and was keen to practice his English, especially since he doesn't talk to Americans that often. We had a chat for a while. Soon, his train stop came up and he said goodbye as he was on his way to visit family. We wished each other good luck on language learning.
I was a little bit surprised by the exchange, to be honest. As I said, it's not super common for Germans to make unsolicited small talk with strangers. Also, to be honest, I don't project a very welcoming or friendly persona when I'm traveling alone, either. As much as I love Detroit, I have to say that going to school there toughened me up and taught me to be proactive and protect myself especially when traveling alone as a single female. Since this cheery bloke seemed harmless enough and we were surrounded by others, I felt okay having a conversation with him and enjoyed the exchange.