The Kindness of Strangers: The People I’ve Encountered

Alli Green
September 30, 2013

One aspect of being in Berlin makes me feel like I haven’t left home: every encounter I’ve had with the locals I know (my hosts/the people who work at IES) and nearly every encounter with strangers has been positive. In Vermont I am used to smiling and waving at everyone because I know essentially everyone; cities have far more people and move much faster. Regardless, even amidst people rushing around absorbed in their days, I’ve noticed friendliness and kindness from passersby. Multiple times, old men have told me my shoelaces are untied, store clerks almost always engage in conversation with me, and I have yet to see anyone act too irritated when it becomes clear how little German I speak.

From what I’ve seen, people who live in Berlin love living here and so most everyone seems generally upbeat. The humorless stereotype for Germans so far seems false. The first time I appreciated how whimsical people here can be was out for dinner with friends on our second night; our check was delivered on a small model train that putted across the bar and made us deposit our money in the plastic caboose. Sometimes strangers even engage in banter with me. When leaving an incredible Macklemore concert this past Wednesday night (my first real concert!) I walked by a man with an oversized fur coat and indicated my own fur coat, smiling. He looked at me straight-faced and just said “mine’s bigger” and hurried off.

Finally, I want to acknowledge what wonderfully kind people my hosts are. One drowsy morning earlier this week, I pulled shampoo off the glass bathroom shelf my hosts gave me and the entire glass panel flew onto the floor and broke in two. After a moment’s panic, I wrapped the broken shelf in my towel and spent the entire day rehearsing my words under my breath: “an accident happened this morning; I am very sorry; I would like to pay to replace it.” I came home that evening only to find that the shelf had already been replaced. I couldn’t believe it, thanked them and tried to insist that I would like to pay for the damaged shelf. They waved me away, saying the shelf was ten years old and it would’ve broken any old day. This response to my spastic shower misadventure would be enough to make me think my hosts are kind, gracious people, but to boot they still invite me to dinner each Sunday night, ask me about my program, and even express interest in Vermont—it took several minutes to find it in their Atlas and they didn’t believe that we have moose back home, but they laughed for days when I said neighborhood kids used to have to go outside with noisemakers in case they spotted black bears. This macabre humor about the threat of bears aside, I feel extremely fortunate to be around so much cheer and compassion.

Alli Green

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Having grown up in rural Vermont, Alli Green now studies art history and studio art at Skidmore College. She stays active on campus by working as admissions ambassador, a tutor in Skidmore&rsquo;s writing center, and looks forward to assistant costume designing the theater department&rsquo;s main stage production in the spring of 2014. Her ambitions include pursuing a master&rsquo;s degree in either art history, museum studies, or library sciences, exploring opportunities to work as a field archeologist, illustrating children&rsquo;s books, and contributing to the making of movie magic as a costume designer or special effects makeup artist. In the meantime, she is content to get excited about books, movies, art, history, and learning everything she can both while she is a student and after.</span></p>

2013 Fall
Home University:
Skidmore College
Art History
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