What a welcoming warm feeling I have when the stranger behind the immigration counter looks at my dark blue passport and says, “Welcome back!” I felt like he really was welcoming me back home. I felt an immediate sense of belonging and started walking upright with more confidence in my stride. I felt genuinely welcomed also by my first language, terrible public toilets, drinking fountains, credit cards, taquerias and Chipotle. I’ve only spent four days in San Francisco in my lifetime, but just it’s association with U.S. made all the difference.
I realize when I’m in the U.S. I assume the people I see on street are similar to me in some irrational way. I assume we have some similar experiences living in the U.S., following the laws and regulations of the same government, and thus I could imagine their world-view. This is an inaccurate assumption by all means, but an psychological experience that is typical when people see others who look like themselves, for example. This idea plays a role in racism and homophobia because we connect with and protect people who are like us (or just look like us), and are more hesitant to protect those outside that description. Yet when I’m in Germany, I never make the assumption that others are like me. I am constantly wondering about their motivations for certain traditions or behaviors. I also find myself wishing I could hear what the Germans learn in their history class. I mostly learned about U.S. history and about world wars and religions through a U.S. perspective.
This observational stance allows me to be more mindful and open minded to learn about a new culture. However it also emotionally removes me from my environment. I’m less emotionally connected to people I see on the street in Germany.
I realize this by contrast to my feeling when visiting the U.S., especially when attending a conference with other professionals in my field. At this conference I learned an interesting tool for increasing awareness about your level of engagement in a group environment. Close your eyes and picture a dance in a large hall. Are you on the balcony looking down on the dance floor? Are you on the dance floor? In the middle or on the edge?
Where on the dance floor feels most authentic to you?