I always have the most interesting conversations with cab drivers. I don’t know why this is exactly. Maybe I just like talking to people, and they’re usually pretty talkative. I also think it’s basically a rule that they have to be foreign, so that’s also interesting to ask them questions about where they’re from, how they ended up in America, and what they miss most about their home country.
Last night, on my ride back from the airport, I talked with my East-African cab driver about school and family. It was hard to understand him through his accent, but he had some pretty interesting things to say. He moved here ten years ago in order to keep his entire family together. He said that he gets to see his mother, brothers, and sisters on a regular basis now. “Family should be together, in the same place,” he told me, asking me why my family wasn’t all together. “It’s not good to be apart, and only see everyone once or two times a year, on holidays,” he said. Which is an interesting point. Is that an American thing, everyone being so far from each other? I don’t know.
My cab driver the time before was Ethiopian Orthodox, and happened to be driving me on the same day as the Ethiopian New Year. He told me about all of their different customs and holidays, which happen at least once a month, when the entire community comes together to celebrate. They invite people to share coffee, an Ethiopian treat, and just enjoy spending time with the whole neighborhood. There are also two separate holidays when the men and women go from door to door, singing to everyone.
And that time when my family was briefly in San Francisco, when we all talked to our Russian cab driver and discovered that he used to be a ship’s captain, and he had been to over fifty different countries.
These encounters have taught me a few things:
First, it doesn’t hurt to listen, ask questions, and appreciate someone’s culture.
Second, everyone has a story. Those people that we walk by every day, who we see as inferior or unimportant. All of us have somewhere we’ve come from and somewhere we’re going, and it never hurts to find out what their story is. You could be standing next to someone who survived a war, or has seen something amazing, and you would never know.
Finally, show an interest in someone’s language. People always appreciate it, even if you totally butcher it. Well, apparently, Parisans aren’t so kind, but most people genuinely become happier when they hear their own tongue- I said “privet” to the Russian cab driver, and he babbled an excited stream of Russian back at me until I had to tell him that I could only say “hello”. I also thanked my cab driver last night in Arabic and Italian when I learned that he spoke them, and we had a brief, 17-second conversation in Italian that quickly ended when my minimal vocabulary ran out. But still. Making connections is good. One aspect of the American perspective seems to be keeping to yourself and ignoring strangers. But who knows what they’ll have to say.