Friday Chewable: Experiencing Genuine Kindness

Welcome to our all-new series called Friday Chewable: Food for Thought. Once per month we will post a new topic to open your mind, challenge your ideas or just give you something to think about over the weekend.

This second installment of Food for Thought, written by Mike, deals with kindness and humanity.

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I like to think I’m a nice person. I try to be friendly and understanding, even during trying times. Over the course of our 14 months traveling, I realized there is a vast ocean of difference between being nice and the genuine kindness that we experienced from others.

Early in our trip we were fortunate enough to Couchsurf with an awesome couple, Clelia and Ruslan, at their home in Trieste, Italy. We stayed with them for two nights, and over the course of many conversations, we tried to reconcile how most Americans’ attitude of friendliness is based on a superficial model. It is common in America to say, “Hello” and “How are you?” to strangers without any real concern for the answer. The outside perception is that all Americans are nice, but if no one cares about the answer, the question loses all meaning. It was an interesting idea and one that I had never thought of. Here we were staying with a pair of strangers who had responded to a virtual request to stay with them (sent through a website), and they had taken us in and treated us like close friends or family. There was nothing superficial about it.

Going to the Church of the Intercession in Bogolyubovo

A friend of a friend came to our rescue in Vladimir, Russia. Fedor left work early to take me (Mike), Tara and my mom around his city when our plans fell through. It was our first time meeting Fedor, but he showed us the kindness of a long-time friend. Here, my mom is talking and walking with Fedor toward the Church of the Intercession in Bogolyubovo.

Traveling has opened our eyes to how generous people can be to complete strangers beyond the superficial interactions we had become accustomed to. We have experienced deep and meaningful sacrifices in the name of kindness. Clelia and Ruslan had no ulterior motive. They were being hospitable because they wanted to connect with other people. It certainly takes a certain type of person to do what they did for us, but I wonder why they were able to break away from the fears that some people feel towards strangers. I think fear leads to distrust and ultimately an inability and a lack of desire to connect with others. What has your experience been like? Do you find interactions with strangers and even acquaintances to be genuine or more superficial? Feel free to keep the discussion going by commenting below.

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6 responses to “Friday Chewable: Experiencing Genuine Kindness

  1. Ive heard, I can’t remember where that Americans smile a lot, but it is a fake smile. In other countries they may not smile as much, but when they do, it’s real.

      • It’s an experience i’ve made as well: getting out of your own country makes you realize how much you actually are determined by being raised there, and you only ever notice it when, in different surroundings, some things that you never thought about doing differently are suddenly perceived as oddities.

        That can be certain gestures, eating certain foods/food combinations, how much you obey laws and rules, your perception of hot/cold weather, how loud you are at home or in public, things you automatically expect to come with certain other things, etc.

        You will find yourselves slightly embarrassed in situations you never thought about handling any differently, faced with a bunch of people who clearly think you’re a weirdo and sometimes won’t even believe that what you do is “normal” where you come from, or in case they already know other people from your place, might point out to you that “you people always do this and that” and you’ll be like, “yeah, of course we do – oh wait, you don’t?” 😉

        • I sometimes wonder how different our experience would have been if we only stayed in hostels and hotels for our entire trip. By interacting with locals, their friendliness was infectious and we were more willing to perhaps “embarrass” ourselves in situations because they encouraged us to. Whether it was trying new food or getting off the beaten path for a non-touristy bar, they always showed us their “normal.” The best part is we have now incorporated that into our lives. For instance, thanks to Thailand and Vietnam, dehydrated shrimp has become a staple in most of our dishes.

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