Traveling to China soon? With a country of almost 1.5 Billion people, “Keep in mind, most of the people you’ll meet are domestic tourists from the countryside. Few have ever seen Americans or Europeans before and...do not be surprised if they want to take selfies with you.” This word of warning may seem foreign to many Americans as China is in and of itself. Spending sixteen plus hours on a plane could possibly be the greatest representation of how enormous a world we truly inhabit.
Walking across the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and even down simple streets, many locals would often marvel as our group walked past them. If there is anything Americans are preoccupied with, it is definitely personal space. To us, the idea of walking up and asking a stranger for a picture would present itself as a socially awkward situation, unless if you’re George Clooney or any one of the 10 Kardashians.
One of the first things travelers realize is that there is a great sense of mystery from the cultures in the west compared to those in the east. It was the people I met who made me discover that all anyone who wanders is truly seeking knowledge. Despite the obvious language barrier, these people did not want to simply take pictures with us as much as they wanted to learn from us, and they expressed more kindness in complete strangers than I experienced from people I’ve known for years.
All the way around the world, it is easy to become overwhelmed by how different everyday life can be from unrecognizable food (‘baked duck tongues, fried snake on a stick, a bowl of scorpions’ I remember seeing advertised in restaurants), to language barriers (many simply smile and hand you over the camera unable to ask you take their picture). You’ll also notice a different sense of the value of time (ever been stuck on a public Beijing bus at the height of rush hour?). Different cultures react in different ways and it’s not necessary bad or good… it’s simply the way it is. And we Americans often find ourselves all too often write off an experience as negative simply because we’re outside of our comfort zone.
Now it is not so much an awkward experience having a stranger ask to take my picture than it was truly a learning opportunity for the both of us whether it’s trekking along the thousand steps of the great wall to grabbing my first stick of gourmet fried scorpion. What I truly learned is that kindness is a universal language. When I actually look deeper, people who don’t resemble me often shared my passion of learning more about the world, embracing our differences, and sharing this new experience by taking that shared selfie!