Travel Adventures

The Human Family

Many ideas for blogs have been swimming in my head this past week, but none resonated enough for me to put fingers to keyboard. This morning that changed. In an effort to be more productive, I set off to the grocery store at 8am—thinking this would put me ahead for the day and I would be home with plenty of time to get my laundry switched over. Those of you who read this blog know the importance of laundry day. The weather was glorious — cool and damp following an overnight rain. Approaching the store, I finished up a Voxer message to a friend back home. I had no expectation of human companionship and was focused entirely on getting in and out of the store with no extra purchases (I tend to dawdle).

My plan changed almost immediately. After I grabbed the first item on my list (a carton of rice milk) from a shelf near the entry, a woman flagged me down from the bread aisle for assistance. Some of you may find this odd, but as a former courtesy clerk (aka: grocery bagger), it happens to me quite frequently. I just have one of those faces. As I approached, I explained “Jag pratar engelska. Jag pratar inte svenska.” In my broken svenska, that means, “I speak english, I do not speak svenska.” FYI, Google Translate tells me I should have said “Jag talar engelska , jag talar inte svenska”.  Despite this warning and her inability to speak English, she was not deterred. Using hand gestures, rudimentary svenska, and Google, I was able to piece together the fact that she needed to know the price of the bread she was holding. Thankfully, the tag had just been shoved off to the side a bit. I suspect she also forgot her reading glasses…

Next, she explained to me (once again, in our cobbled together communication) that she needed to know if the bread was halal. I’m not overly familiar with halal guidelines and just in case it involved more than pork, I double checked the internet. A quick review left me equally confused. After using my translation app to explain to her that there were no pork byproducts in the bread and also no halal labeling, I explained it was probably “bra” or good. She placed the bread in her basket and we both started to go our separate ways. Or so I thought…

Just when I was about to get goal oriented again, she grasped my sleeve and directed me to the dairy aisle. This too has happened to me before. I just go with it. She explained that she needed lactose free milk (laktosfri in svenska). Isn’t it amazing how much you can understand without speaking the same language? A few more words were exchanged, she expressed her thanks, and we parted. Little did she know, I too am thankful. Living in a foreign country can feel very isolating. The language barrier causes confusion and slows down relationships that might otherwise rapidly flourish. Having an early morning conversation of sorts with a friendly woman helped me feel more a part of the community. It reminded me that no matter how small the contribution, I could improve a stranger’s day. I recently explained to my son that strangers are just people we haven’t met yet and that most of them are good people. Today reaffirmed my commitment to that statement. This woman and I may never talk again. We speak different languages, have different religious beliefs, and have no way of purposely reconnecting. Nonetheless, she’s no longer a stranger. She’s now a reminder to me of the fact that we are all connected and in some ways, all family who need to look out for each other.

If you ever feel alone, isolated, or unable to connect, remember this story. Language and beliefs do not have to be a barrier.  Even strangers often care enough to help if we just give them a chance.

Until next time…

Image from diabeticlivingonline.com

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One thought on “The Human Family

  1. Kerstin says:

    Hej Jessica!!
    Your blog is very funny for me to read. I laugh alot ! I have to remind you about the big swedish feast called midsommar. This is much more important than the Swedish national day. We eat raw fish “sill”, potatis and sourcream with shots of flavoured spirit. We also dance around a “majstång” like in this video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cqAiPkgTpy4

    I know It’s a big traditional celebrarion in Trädgårdsföreningen between 11:00-14:30 on friday (midsommarafton).

    Im so looking forward to meet with you after summer!

    Vänliga hälsningar
    Kerstin

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