Being a stranger...

I'm not used to being a stranger, an outsider, the "other."  Travel in Germany gave me a little glimpse into what it means to be a stranger, an "other."

I enjoy people and I love to meet new people and share ideas and stories. But something very strange (to me) happened as we travelled through Germany. I did not recognize it myself.

While in college, my husband Barret had studied for part of a year in Germany and for this trip had brushed up on his German and taken a community class to refresh his skills.  Although he will deny it, he was wonderful in his ability to communicate.  And we were thankful.  He ended up being our "mouthpiece" because many of the hotels and restaurants did not have staff who spoke English.  It helped us greatly. 

We traveled on the train - in part to experience the culture rather than simply be our own little tourist group.  Germans use the train (DB - de Bahn) to get all over the place.  So it felt good to travel "like the locals."   But...while Barret was able to communicate well, the rest of us were not.  I discovered how awkward it is to try to be a part of a community and culture without knowing the language.  As a result, we tended to keep our voices down.  We wanted to be polite, as guests in the country, but I admit that I did did not want to expose myself as a non-German speaker and I certainly did not want to be seen as the "loud American tourist."   

On one of our train trips, a group of about 6 people sat near us. They were older couples on vacation together.  Unbeknownst to them, they revealed a bias - and we received a painful insight. Several of them complained to one another about how they hated the foreigners who came to Germany without bothering to learn the language.  I, of course, was oblivious to their conversation.  But Barret heard - and understood - every word. 

I write this - not to trash these German speakers -- they seemed like ordinarily very nice people - and they were not all of one accord.   Others in the group -- notably the wife of the man who complained the loudest about non-German speakers -- disagreed openly with his assessment.  But... being on the receiving end of the disparagement, even though it did not completely apply to us since Barret was our "voice", made us think about how WE treat the stranger, the "other" the non-English speaker in our country.  For certainly this bias is not just one reserved for Germans.  We have the same issues.  

How often do we think of non-English speakers as being less educated or intelligent or capable?  When, the reason for the muteness may be their inability to speak the language at hand.  I was ignorant of the language of Germany.  Yet I did not like feeling ignorant and I really disliked the bias against me.  It was true that I was ignorant of the language. I was a stranger. But I did not like discovering that because of my inability to speak the language, (to some) I was unwelcome.

So the question becomes.... how do we treat the stranger?

Jesus said something about that...Indeed, Jesus came as stranger to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. He asked them what was happening. And, while they seemed surprised, and assumed he was a stranger, they welcomed him into their conversation and then invited them to stay. They were blessed - because they welcomed the stranger into their midst.

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