I'd walked onto the plane with my boarding pass in one hand and my passport in the other, repeating 38a 38a 38a over and over in my head. I'd known my seat would be a window seat because the nice woman at the baggage check had offered to upgrade me when I told her it was both my first time leaving the country and my first time traveling alone. But when I'd gotten to the row labeled 38, there was an older man sitting in the window seat, a, leaving the aisle seat, b, for me.

The man had stared at me staring at him. "Is this your seat?" He'd asked with a heavy accent, one I couldn't place then and still don't know now.

"Um," I'd said. "No." Because I hate confrontation.

The man had nodded, then, seemingly unbothered by the way I just stood there awkwardly. After another moment of watching each other, the man picked up my complimentary blanket and pillow, gesturing for me to sit down in the aisle seat.

I'd sat. Suddenly, I became very uncomfortable with the idea that I'd be spending the next 7 hours sitting knee-to-knee with a stranger. It was an idea that hadn't occurred to me until that moment, because I'd been so preoccupied with airport-security nerves and general flight anxiety. I'd only ridden on planes a handful of times, and every time had been when I was a little kid so I'd always been in seats with my family. I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like to sit next to someone I'd never met before. Was I expected to introduce myself? To have a conversation?

"Where are you flying to?" The man had asked, interrupting my thoughts before they had enough time to spiral down.

I'd blinked, because wasn't it obvious? We were on a plane to Amsterdam. "Uh, Amsterdam?"

The man had nodded. We went silent for a moment before I coughed and returned the question.

The man mumbled something I couldn't understand and added, "connecting flights," before I could ask anything else. Awkwardly, I'd nodded along. He added, "What's your name?"

"Caryn." I'd paused. "What's your name?"

The man said his name, too quietly and too quickly for me to understand.

Unsure of myself, I'd given him another nod and we lapsed into silence. It seems silly now, but at the time I remember being worried that he'd be offended or insulted I hadn't heard his name, because he might think it was his accent that was causing the problem and not the anxiety that made my heart pound in my ears. I'd spent a moment debating whether it would be okay to ask him or not, but eventually settled on putting in the complimentary headphones and listening to an audio book. The man hadn't spoken to me again until after I'd woken up for dinner, when the flight attendants were walking around with the cart full of dinners. Because I'd fallen asleep towards the start of the flight, after I'd gotten as comfortable as one can get on an airplane, I hadn't had a chance to look over the menu options. I decided to go with the first option without reading the others because I'd been on a bit of a time crunch. When she handed me my tray, however, I was delighted to see that alongside the dinner was a small slice of packaged cheese.

The cheese was waxy and kind of gross. I probably shouldn't have eaten it, because I am just a bit lactose-intolerant, but I did anyway partly because I'd already started eating it and didn't have anywhere to throw the trash and partly because I really can't resist cheese even if it's not very good. Anyway, I'd eaten the cheese and had just settled back in my seat, prepared to fall back asleep for the rest of the flight, when I heard the sound of something being placed onto my tray.

I'd opened my eyes to see the man placing his packaged cheese on the fold-up table in front of me. He saw that I was awake. "Do you want my cheese?"

"Um." I hadn't been sure how to respond to such an odd offer. "No thanks?"

"Really," he'd said, picking up his packaged cheese and trying to hand it to me. "I don't like cheese."

"Really," I'd said. "It's okay."

He'd frowned, then, as if he couldn't possibly understand why I wasn't taking the cheese.

Again, it was silly, but I'd started to wonder if it was something you just did on airplanes. If your seatmate offers you their cheese, are you supposed to take it? Would it be rude to keep declining, or, worse, would he be offended if I didn't accept it? Was it some sort of weird airplane etiquette that I didn't know about? Logically, I know now that it's completely absurd, but in the moment I was panicking and feeling awkward, so after a few seconds of hesitation, I'd relented. "I'll take it. Thank you."

He'd nodded, frown still in place, and passed it over to me. I'd slid the cheese into the front pocket of my backpack, prepared to throw it out in the Schiphol airport so his feelings wouldn't be hurt.

"Seriously," I'd added, because I really didn't want him to know I'd be throwing the cheese out the first chanse I got. "Thank you."

We didn't speak again, and when we landed and I stood up to grab my backpack, the man squeeze past and left without another word. It was such a weird experience at the time, and afterward I couldn't stop laughing incredulously, but now I think it was pretty much the best experience I could have asked for for a first flight alone.