“Wash your hands before you eat.” “Hold my hand while you cross the road.” “Don’t talk to strangers.”
Almost all children have heard these instructions at some time in their lives. Until you are about four years old, these are some of the only rules you are responsible for following, giving them monumental importance in childhood and beyond. At what point do they lose such importance? Granted, you should probably still wash your hands before supper, but calling your parents each time that you cross Market Street might be a bit extreme.
I am most concerned with the last rule in the set, the rule meant to protect children from dangers of the unknown. As young adults, however, I think the biggest mistake we can make is steadfastly avoiding conversation with people we have never met before. Like many of my fellow American JSAs, I spent my spring break trying to see as much of Europe in as little time as possible. Many of the most memorable moments of my travels have to do with meeting new and interesting people (second only to trying new and interesting foods). Without violating the age-old rule of ‘stranger-danger’, I would not have incredible and, at times, incredibly odd memories of my 2014 spring break.
While in a pub in Ireland, a group of travelers asked me to take their picture. A simple “where are you from?” sparked a conversation that soon turned into an invitation for my cousin Jill and me to join their table. The group, celebrating their last day together in Ireland, consisted of two men from Italy, a man from France, a woman from Brazil, another woman from Spain. All of them had been strangers at the beginning of the year, but had become a family after studying English together at a school in Galway for a few months. When Jill and I got up to leave, the man from Paris gave us his email address, telling us to email him if we ever visit Prague. Although I don’t anticipate taking advantage of my Parisian contact in the Czech Republic, spending the night talking to him and his friends became one of the highlights of my EuroTrip.
Airports are also a great place to meet colourful characters. My cousin Jill says that everyone should have to sleep in an airport at least one time to gain a sense of independence and fully appreciate the experience of traveling. Though I usually agree with her, the filthy floor of Rome’s Ciampino airport kept me wide awake and gave me plenty to talk about with a girl studying in Barcelona who had missed her flight home after incorrectly reading the departure time on her ticket.
Other spring “breaquaintances” worth mentioning would be Bruno, the angry Parisian metro ticket salesman, a couple from the town next to mine in the United States, and, finally, a boy from Korea that is spending a year backpacking through Asia and Europe. Although they were confiscated at airport security, I would like to formally thank him for the set of metal chopsticks that he gave me.
We are given the opportunity to meet new people each day, and we would never have taken advantage of it had we not ventured forth and spoken to new people. The next time you are traveling, whether flying internationally, taking the train from Leuchars to Aberdeen, or simply walking along a well-known street, don’t be afraid to leave the confining walls of your comfort zone. Break the rules; talk to strangers.