Does anyone else notice the way a particular packaged food sometimes tastes different in various countries? I strongly believe that Fanta is way better in Norway than in the United States. And this Snickers above? S brought it home from Japan and I happily ate it last week. My conclusion: Yum. But what I most picked up on was that it had more of a peanut-y taste, and less of a caramel-y flavor than a U.S. Snickers. Good, but noticeably different.
I get a kick out of exploring international grocery stores and seeing all the new-to-me foods. I like to do this when I travel abroad, and when I find stores where I live that happen to carry good selections of international foods. One of my favorite grocery stores in Chicago seemed to be Greek-affiliated, and they had some delicious food in the deli and interesting stocked items from all over the world. And there was a Hungarian grocery store in the Chicago area that I wanted to check out, but sadly, I didn't get there before I moved. Thankfully, there are international grocery stores in Québec too. In Montréal, there are all sorts of fun places to explore. Last spring, I went with a friend to a Bosnian grocery store/diner-restaurant and had a tasty Macedonian Fanta (that made me think fondly of Norway) and a delicious vegetarian sandwich the cook made especially for me since pretty much everything on the menu included meat. Don't worry- he is the one that suggested the idea, all with a great sense of humor and slight aura of disbelief at my seemingly-odd-to-him preference of not eating meat. I was going to attempt to be low-maintenance and just get salad or fries or something on the menu, just to eat at this fun little grocery store/diner-restaurant, but he wanted to improvise a veggie sandwich for me on the spot. Experiences like eating that meal with my friend in that Bosnian establishment are something I value. This desire to connect with people from other cultures, both in small moments, and in deeper relationships, is something that I appreciated from living and traveling in Europe and has now become part of my life. Last week I found an international grocery store in Québec, and after wandering through it to see all the interesting food it offers, I left with a new spring in my step and some fun food in my bag...feeling just a bit more at home here. I guess I was afraid that moving away from a large city like Montréal or Chicago would mean losing the international atmosphere I have grown accustomed to since my days in Europe, but I am happy to say that Québec also has its own international community which I am slowly discovering.
When I began living in Chicago years ago, I learned how to do that don't-make-eye-contact-with-me city attitude that is useful when you don't want to attract unwanted attention on the subway or while walking home alone at night. But then sometimes, I would stop and remember to be aware of all the people swirling around me as I make my way through life among so many diverse people, cultures, and languages. To concentrate on being present in my transitions. And when I was awake and open to the world around me, I was reminded of the overwhelming beauty of humanity in momentary, yet authentic connections with strangers. Quick almost imperceptible smiles, short conversations, shared subway seats, a exchange of a look of appreciation over a beautiful baby or adorable young child. A brief, friendly conversation in French, a second language for both me and the woman working at the international grocery store last week, and a promise to come back.
Those moments give me a quiet hope. These type of connections transcend differences like nationality, language, socio-economic or religious background, and a gazillion other cultural distinctions, and instead become a moment about recognizing and honoring our shared humanity. Though I may never know a person's story and how his or her journey through life brought them to that place, the moment itself has value and beauty. And sometimes those brief exchanges unfold into friendships. And slowly, a bridge is built by one authentic moment after another, and the lasting friendships that are developed over time. A powerful action of peace and love.