I am studying abroad in a foreign country…a foreign country where English is not the primary language. I am surrounded by foreign culture, procedures…and language. While I am constantly trying to translate ideas and concepts that do not have “perfect” translations, I have found that some things do not need translation. One of those things? Kindness.
While there were some few and minor exceptions, I have been treated with pure kindness in France. Today was a stunning example of that. My day started with a classmate commented on my necklace. “It’s very pretty,” she said with a smile.
“Merci,” I replied sincerely and expected that to be the end of it.
But another classmate piped up, “Yes, it goes very well with your outfit…and your eyes.”
“Mer…” I began.
“You are always so well-dressed,” a third classmate said.
“Merci, merci,” I said.
Considering that I usually just throw on a t-shirt and jeans (and the fact that my sneakers have holes in them), that’s a pretty high complement. That was an amazing way to start my day. Then, when I was running to catch the tram, I tripped (I know, I know – I’m clumsy and yes, I was voted Most Likely to Fall at Graduation by my high school class). Some man saw me and then the door of the tram open for me, assuring that I made it on the tram. It wasn’t the first time either. I’ve seen many people hold doors open on the tram for fellow passengers.
At dinner today, I sat down and began to eat when a young man approached me. “Hello,” he said in English.
English. Why was he speaking to me in English? “You paid for my dinner a few weeks ago,” he reminded me.
That’s when I remembered. There was a rush of people at the dining hall and the young man didn’t have the right change for the dinner (which is 3.10 euro, why the extra 10 cents? I don’t know). The woman didn’t have change and told them that he needed exactly 3.10 euro or he wouldn’t be able to eat. Well, I’m not going to let someone not eat because they don’t have the right change, so I went up and tried to help. He was only missing 0.30 euro…I had 0.30 euro. It only made sense. What’s 0.30 euro anyway compared to someone being able to eat dinner? He asked me how he could repay me, but I told him it was nothing to worry about. It was clear he was also an international student because he asked if I could speak to him in English, since his French wasn’t very good.
“Right, I remember,” I said.
“I can never thank you enough for what you did,” he said.
“Oh, it was just thirty cents.”
But it wasn’t just thirty cents to him. It was the fact that someone was willing to help him, as so many people have helped me. “Thank you so much. I just…I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten. I remember,” he said.
And that made my day. The fact that he was so moved by such a simple (and common) act. The fact that maybe one day he’ll help someone else and that someone will help someone else. Okay, maybe that’s idealistic of me. Maybe that’s naïve of me. After all, I’m only twenty. What do I know of the world?
Well, I know that there is kindness in the world, if we search for it. Anytime, anywhere, we can be the donors and the recipients of kindness, kindness that can transcend culture, politics, religion, kindness that interconnects humanity. Kindness that needs no translation.