kindness from a stranger
My favorite location in Strasbourg was the small outdoor café, Le Part Thé. Located on the narrow streets by the train station, the café provided a quiet reading environment, free wifi, and the friendliest of hosts. One evening Kary and I enjoyed a quiche and salad dinner at Le Part Thé. In ordering our food, we discovered that the waitress spoke excellent English. She talked to us for around ten minutes about the time she spent studying in the U.S. with her Seattle-born boyfriend. At the end of our meal, she gave us each a macaroon from the pastry case and said with a smile, “It’s on me, it was so nice to meet you.” I was surprised by the extreme hospitality we encountered that night because it seemed very un-French.
It strikes me that just a bit of familiarity or shared experience between two people can form an instant bond between them. So much of a bond that a French student would go out of her way to share her life adventures with two American students who she will never see again. What does this mean in light of Cosmopolitanism? Is it good or bad that we gravitate towards familiarity and resonate with others who have similar life stories to our own?
I think it is mostly good. Those people who we connect with immediately bring smiles to our faces. It is good to make instant connections with other people; it makes us recognize the importance of shared humanity. But we have to work harder to make connections with “The Other.” There are language barriers, cultural barriers, religious barriers, etc. that create distance between “us” and “them.” It is difficult to engage with people who are unlike us, but it will be equally rewarding to connect with “the other” because underneath all the differences is the same common thread of humanness that we find in people like us. The connections we make with people from familiar cultures should encourage us to try to find such a connection with those from distant civilizations.