“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
This is one of my favorite quotes, and it came to mind the other day as I shared a chairlift with a woman that said she was afraid of going to Europe because she’d heard that Europeans didn’t like Americans.
It was Saturday morning. Six inches of powder lay on the slopes, and as we boarded the lift, I asked the woman if she’d ever skied in Europe. “Heavens no,” she replied. “Aren’t Europeans rude to Americans?”
I would like to say that I was taken a back by her statement, but the truth is, I wasn’t. I’ve heard statements like this many times before.
I don’t know who started the idea that Europeans don’t like Americans, but in my experience, it’s simply not true. I won’t lie, I’ve encountered a few less-than-amiable Parisians in my day, but I’ve also met rude people in towns across the United States. Rude people exist everywhere, and just because somebody is rude to you in New York City, doesn’t mean that all Americans, or all New Yorkers for that matter, are rude people as well. I experienced this lesson first hand when I traveled to Europe for the first time many years ago.
Before I left for Europe, I heard all the stereotypes about European culture. The French stank and were rude to Americans. The Italians cooked great food, but they liked to argue, and the Germans were, supposedly, really hard to get to know. What I discovered, however, broke down every stereotype. The French didn’t stink, and they welcomed me into their homes. The Italian women tried to set me up with their daughters, and of all the people that I met overseas, the Germans became, and still are, some of my closest friends.
On one occasion, two friends and I traveled around the Greek countryside with a complete stranger. We didn’t speak a word of Greek, and the stranger only new three words of English; hello, wait and friend. With those three words, however, he took us on a nine hour sightseeing tour, fed us local food, introduced us to exciting people, and showed us a warm side Greece that we probably would have never experienced on our own.
What I’ve learned since those early days of traveling is that after you strip everything down, after you silence the incessant chatter of everyday happenings, you find that the same golden thread connects us all. We laugh. We cry. We eat, and we die. We all share the same necessities of life regardless of where we’re from. At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings sharing space on a tiny piece of rock hurling through the great unknown. French, Bhutanese, Indian; it doesn’t matter where we’re from. There are some really wonderful people out there. You just have to go out and say “hello.”
Of course, the only way that you can know this is to experience it for yourself. Get out of your chair. Turn off the news. Shut down the computer (including this blog), and go someplace that you’ve never been. Talk to people. Whether it’s hiking through Europe, or visiting a new shop across town, as Saint Augustine (354-430) used to say, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read a page.”
Get out there and discover it for yourself. Meet someone new! You might find that Europeans aren’t as rude as you’ve been led to believe. In fact, you may even become friends.