While living overseas I could walk up to a stranger and connect with them merely because we were foreigners in a foreign land and spoke English. We would share experiences and many laughs over our social faux pas. I could connect with Asians no matter where I was if they spoke English because I was a foreigner there to learn more about their country. We connected over our love, new or life long for that country.
People act differently during exchanges with strangers while traveling and hopefully, it changes them. Travelers are open to interaction and developing a connection with people they never would have met otherwise. And the strangest aspect of American life is that we are country that is a frequent destination for foreigners and I can’t recall having many interactions with strangers in public places in America in my youth.
People visit our country because they admire the inalienable rights we enjoy and the wealth, until recently we could depend on making with hard work and determination. Yet, as a nation of mostly immigrants, Americans seem uninterested in foreigners. Some even feel threatened by their presence. And we fight among ourselves over differences of opinion, religion, race, etc. Even though we all appreciate our right to think and act as we choose, we challenge people with opposing lifestyles and choices to do the same. We forget so much of how we came to be as a country until moments as dramatic as 9-11 happen. The other moment of American unity, in my lifetime, happened Tuesday, January 21st at the Inauguration of President Barak Obama.
Sharing that day with strangers from San Francisco, Chicago, Vermont, I felt once again like a stranger in a new country, a new America. This day seemed to make people more open and giving, like two strangers who meet in a foreign land. People on the crowded subway made way for a mother with her young children. Someone gave me their napkin when they heard me sneeze. There was no impatience and no shouting despite the long lines and crowds. No fights. People were uncannily happy and patient without the aid of illegal substances, I can only assume.We knew that we would remember all those that we’d interacted with, even the strangers. They would become part of that memory just by being there.
I left the country two years ago with a heavy heart, disappointed after so many years of writing letters to politicians, pushing for new legislation on foreign policy. I had many arguments trying to explain my government’s actions to Germans, British and Filipino’s who sometimes seemed more educated than I was on our foreign policy. Their disappointment in the U.S. government was apparent. I said that maybe we needed to be knocked off our pedestal anyway.
Now, we were entering a new time in our country’s history. Change would have come with or without Barak Obama. Our country was ready for sweeping change and as President Obama has said many times, we are responsible for making that change happen by voting and by committing to changing our lifestyles and behaviors to change this nation for the better. One man can do nothing without group consensus to change. Speculation is needless. We will not know whether the country wants change enough to change themselves except with time and the results of many media and political pollsters endless toil.