by Nancy Bestor
Bob and I have a habit of getting into interesting conversations with strangers when we are traveling. Sometimes we’re sitting in a bar enjoying a beer and end up chatting with locals and/or tourists sitting near us, hearing their stories, why they’re where they are, and what they do when they’re not traveling or sitting in a bar.
If you know me, you’ll understand how this happens. I will ask questions as long as you will let me. Truth be told, I’m a nosy person. But there is something weirdly fascinating in learning things about strangers, particularly strangers from other countries. I will very likely never see these folks again, yet I have a crazy urge to know if they are in a relationship, what their job is, how they spend their free time, and more. And what’s equally fascinating is that people are willing to answer my questions. Maybe they’re a little lonely, or perhaps they don’t get the chance to talk about themselves very often. Whatever the reason, I have yet to meet a person unwilling to answer my questions.
Last month, on a trip in Japan, we met a couple at Meiji Jingu Temple in Tokyo. This time, they approached me (really, they did), and asked if I spoke English, and if so, could I answer a couple of questions for them. Of course I was more than willing to answer their questions, but soon enough, I was able to turn the tables and get a few of my own questions answered. It turns out that Yoshihiko is a big fan of American comedy, and one of his favorite shows is Saturday Night Live. In his broken but quite good English, Yoshihiko told us how he loves the skits SNL puts on, particularly the political skits featuring Hillary Clinton and the Donald. This of course led to a conversation about whom we voted for and how we felt about the results. They also wondered if we could explain the Donald’s victory. (Side note: we could not.)
Then we got to talking about Japanese culture. My question to them was why do so many Japanese people wear masks over their noses and mouths? The answer was complicated, they said. At first, people started wearing masks to prevent themselves from getting sick when in public places, especially on crowded trains. But then it turned into something quite different. It became a way to hide their faces. In their own words, wearing a mask is a “strange” cultural phenomenon of Japanese people, but those without masks do not “seem calm.”
We exchanged emails and upon our return to the US, sent a picture of us with them, and let them know we enjoyed meeting them. They replied, thanking us for our kindness during our conversation. (Not once did they mention that I was nosy.) They also told us that they would like to visit the USA.
And this is why we travel. Not just to see new places, but to meet different people and learn about different cultures. Maybe I am nosy, but I’m not going to stop asking questions. I’m just getting started.