Don’t Take a Shiv in the Pancreas: Say Hello to People in Foreign Countries

Back when I worked in advertising, one of the sure signs a campaign was good was if it made other people in the industry jealous, the old “I wish I’d thought of that” factor. I’ve been out of the ad game for a while, but I love the bad decision spots Grey NY did for DirecTV and I do indeed wish I’d thought of these.  Check ‘em out if you have a sec; I put one at the bottom of this post; see two more of my faves here and here. (And you kind of need to see at least one spot for this next part to make sense, so go watch, but please do come back after. I’ll wait.)

{Welcome back!}

I was thinking about these a lot this past weekend when I visited my friend M in Sorgues, just outside of Avignon, in the south of France. Provence, to be exact, which, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I have a serious geographic crush on.

The reason they came to mind is that absolutely none of the amazing weekend I just had would have been possible if I’d never been in France a few years ago for my birthday because I never would’ve met M, who’s become a very dear friend to me, despite the fact that until three months ago we lived 6000 miles away from each other.

He and I have talked a lot about people who are internationally minded, as he refers to them; from his point of view, this term applies to French people (and everyone really, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’re talking French and Americans) who are open to meeting non-French people. In America-ese, I think we’d probably call such people open-minded, but whatever label you choose to give them, it surprises me still that not everyone is like this. Some people simply have no interest in meeting people who are not like them or in seeing places that are not like where they’re from. This idea is almost as foreign to me as the new language I’m trying to relearn and remember. I just don’t get it. If I wanted to go all John Lennon/“Imagine” on you, I’d say that we could probably solve a lot of our world’s problems with this concept of international mindedness, attempting to make the world a tiny bit smaller by understanding one person at a time. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Whatever. That’s not what this post is about.

It’s about the simple choices we make that lead us to new places, that split-second decision to say yes to something, because even though that something may seem small, it can sometimes take us to big places or lead us to really amazing people. There’s also the Sliding Doors effect, which isn’t necessarily about saying yes, but more about the interesting turns life takes as a result of small things that we can’t control, like Gwyneth Paltrow missing her subway in the example of the movie. (What? You haven’t seen Sliding Doors? Rent it now! $2.99 on iTunes!)

The point is, if there’s no conversation with M, there’s no friendship. And without that friendship, I would’ve missed this whole weekend. I miss being friends with C, his sister, and with N, his girlfriend. I miss an 80th birthday party under the trees in the country.  I miss a 27th birthday party for C. I miss the sangria made by M and C’s 84-year old grandmother. I miss singing French songs by equal parts moonlight and candlelight. I miss learning a family whistle. I miss Fontaine de Vaucluse and laughing my ass off with C on the way there. I miss seeing my first play in French, Romeo and Juliet. I miss hiking la gorge de Toulourenc. I miss moussaka lunch made by M and C’s grandmother. I miss wine tasting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I miss a morning walk through the country with M’s mom and sister. I miss acting like seventh graders from being so tired at the end of a long, fun day. I miss being sincerely welcomed and included by two families (M’s girlfriend N’s family, too) who are basically some of the nicest, kindest, most generous people on the planet.

So don’t be one of those people who doesn’t say hi. Look up when you’re walking (please, especially if you live in Paris with the narrow sidewalks!) because who knows what you might miss if you don’t. Smile at someone. Go out when you feel like staying in and being lazy. Do the exact opposite of what you’ve always done and give it a second to see what happens.  And say yes to being friends with someone who lives 6000 miles away from you. Why not?

Just for fun, here’s how I got to my post title:

When you don’t say hello to people in foreign countries, you keep the same circle of friends you’ve always had. When you keep the same circle of friends you’ve always had, you never advance past high school and your perspective from the eighties never changes. When your perspective from the eighties never changes, you wear neon, you listen to Culture Club unironically, and you think Nick Nolte is cool. When you wear neon, listen to Culture Club unironically, and think Nick Nolte is cool, people pick fights with you in bars and you end up in jail. When people pick fights with you in bars and you end up in jail, you ask family to send you old DVDs of Oz. When you ask family to send you old DVDs of Oz, you learn how to make a shiv out of glass scavenged from the prison kitchen.When you learn how to make a shiv out of glass scavenged from the prison kitchen, you take a shiv in the pancreas.

Don’t take a shiv in the pancreas. Say hello to people in foreign countries.

And there you have it.