Went “international” yesterday. Had breakfast near my home in Conshohocken and greeted 11 people from five countries as I “table-hopped” brandishing my all-American smile, learning you don’t have to travel the world to find your Self. The world can find you right where you live. If you open your heart.
First, I saw my thrifty Venezuelan Señora, working at a heaping portion of bacon, scrambled eggs, home fries and a cup of coffee. She traveled from a different county, driving through eight small towns to get to IKEA. She comes for the 99-cent breakfast and a little philosophical discussion on the side. Talked about Indigo children, dreams, and synchronicity.
Too soon, my coffee-swilling buddy has to leave, and I hear a high-pitched voice coming from behind. A child? No, a tall blonde woman with a child. “Was that you, or your little one that just spoke?” I ask. The woman speaks to me as she helps her little girl from a cart and into a chair at an adjoining table.
I detect an accent. “Are you from Sweden?” It would make sense. IKEA’s international headquarters in North America is here in Conshohocken.
“No, Holland,” she says. “Pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?” I say, realizing how stupid it sounds. Did I offend her?
“I guess you can say that. I get that a lot from people,” she replies. What a relief! She smiled and took no offense.
Two men, both with a unique medium brown skin, sit eating at another table. “Excuse me gentlemen,” I say. “Couldn’t help but overhear you. Is the accent from India or Pakistan?” “India,” the shorter of the two say. “Any from the north, where the Buddha walked?” I ask, excited about my planned trip there. “I’m from the south,” the small one adds, while the other indicates he’s from the west and the north.
“Either of you Buddhist?” I continue, once again pushing the envelope of proper discourse from a complete stranger asking about someone’s religion. One is Hindu. The other Muslim. “About 84 percent are Hindu,” the more talkative short fellow says. “Some 14 percent are Muslim.”
“What are you, accountants?” I ask upon hearing the statistical breakdown. “No, engineers,” they say in unison.
Three Asian women are talking at the next table. “Are you from China, Japan or Vietnam?” I ask, and get no response. I kneel on the floor, next to the one around 40 years old. The youngest is about 20, while the oldest appears 60. Mother, daughter, and grandmother? I bow, and pull back, and lower my voice to prevent scaring them. “Don’t tell me,” I say. “Taiwan?”
We don’t speak English; just a little, is what the woman closest to me says in a roundabout way. They’re from Korea. “South Korea?” I want to ask, but think better, and say no more, and return to my table. Michael, where is your mind at? You don’t know any of these people, yet they befriend you when you approach and open to them.
You see, I try to find inspiration where ever I go, whatever I do. And so, I’m writing this “international journey” on a manila envelope, needing to kill time before an afternoon appointment. Just noticed a woman with two children is eating at the next table. Finishing my handwritten post, I approach and try to bring closure to my world-wide marauding. The mother and children looked as American as “mom and apple pie.” Probably from Cleveland, Ohio. I think. This should end my search for a story-a-day.
Turns out the woman comes from the Czech Republic, created in the early to mid 90s in the Eastern Bloc. Knew some of my co-workers from Philadelphia. Studies yoga.
Not a Buddhist. None were, even the Koreans were Christian. But, I’m still looking along this path. Still learning. Still seeking. Having lots of fun while I’m at it.
[…] by kim I should be packing for my trip to Phoenix, but I’m sitting here writing instead. Michael at Contoveros reminded me of a subject close to my heart. That, and the fact we’ve been talking […]
Your IKEA sounds like the library I work where non-whites outnumber whites 2 to 1 and a good share of the ‘Whites’ speak English with accents. I LOVE this. Have lived in white suburban neighborhoods all my life. New Americans are so full of hope and motivation.
There is a strong Christian community in Korea, BTW. (My son lived there for a year and got tired of all the preaching– He’s currently agnostic.) Chinese and Japanese friends have told me that Christianity is taking off in their countries too. Strange, since it’s dropping in popularity here.
“New Americans are so full of hope and motivation.”
Wouldn’t it be great to capture that? To show it to people in our nation, our world how to get along? And what does one talk about in a Library? You’re either helping someone (librarian) or discussing something cultural, be it history, self-improvement or a form of entertainment usually, but not always nowadays, through reading.
What a civics lesson. What an exposure to humanity!
You’re not done yet, you know. 🙂 You have at least one regular commenter who is not American (uh, that’d be me) – a Canadian. Who in turn is dating a Russian. Oh and I used to date an Iranian girl (she referred to herself as Persian). I don’t know if I’ve ever dated anyone “normal”. *laughing*
I think it’s cool that you see such intriguing variety. Maybe our world isn’t quite as homogenous as it might first appear. Even the Mom and Apple Pie woman turned out to be different than what you thought.
And isn’t it interesting that people aren’t quite as closed as we make ourselves out to be? Maybe some of us just want to reach out (or be reached out to), but are socially inhibited from doing so. I suspect that the American south doesn’t struggle with this so much as the north. Say, New York. Or Toronto Canada for that matter. The only time we reached out to each other here was when we won the Olympic hockey game.
Great post Michael!
I know what it’s like to be new in a foreign country. I saw my father, a Greek immigrant, make his way through life, befriending many, but having a special place in his heart for persons born elsewhere. I feel a real kinship and almost a “duty” to extend a hand of friendship, to let them see what’s best about the place we live — and that is the people.
I’d probably do the same in another land. Maybe more so because the mix of people would be greater, from different backgrounds, and we’d have so much A variety to offer one another.
IKEA is unique. The design helps one feel open and neighborly, with its large, floor to ceiling window panes in the restaurant, to the play area for kids. Let’s not forget the “AS-IS.” department.
Good to hear about the united nations you mingle with up North. Let peace reign over Canada forever!
I had totally forgotten about the IKEA part of your post! I go there too sometimes just to enjoy the tasty and cheap meals they serve.
Thank you for your great thought about Canada! I think our two countries recognized the bone-deep family connection we had – after 9/11. I remember there being all kinds of snide remarks and political rudeness on both sides of our border up until that point. After that happened, the tone between us changed.
For me, seeing that was like seeing someone bloody my brother’s nose. You can disagree with him all you like and we can argue back and forth but if someone bruises my brother, that’s when I see red.
(Ok look at that – I totally went off topic. Sorry. :))
No, my friend, you’re “right on” topic. As usual.