Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.
– W.B. Yeats
This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.
I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.
Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:
- At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
- On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
- On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
- On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
- When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
- When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.
In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.
Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.