In the past week I have seen dozens of amazing and wonderful things. I’ve seen the bright lights of Times Square, the surprisingly small Whitehouse, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, been right up to the top of the Empire State Building, wandered through the Natural History Museum, saw about a million different monuments and sights from films and TV shows and made about the same number of memories. I went on a plane for the first time, which was exciting until it got incredibly boring. I not only went outside of Britain, I went outside of Europe. I watched Madagascar 3. I played the highest game of Sopio that I’ve ever played. I ate sour patch kids for the first time, as well as having a giant pretzel and an over-priced hot dog from a random stall on Fifth Avenue. I had so many new experiences and had the time of my life.
One thing that I learnt, however, which I was surprised to learn from a holiday, was taught whilst sitting in a tiny park in the middle of New York eating a massive tuna sandwich, because you don’t get small amounts of food in America. We were sitting next to an old man who was on his own and he told us that he had lived in New York all his life, if I remember correctly. He said that he’d had some great times with some Scottish friends when we told him where we were from. He told us how much he loved living in New York. He was a really sweet old man, and to me I thought it was amazing that a man could live all his life and make his hometown somewhere that was so unfamiliar and exciting and new to us. I can’t really write down the satisfaction I feel about it – New York to me was somewhere you can’t actually live. It’s strange, but in my head New Yorkers were almost fictional creatures – something you read about and see on TV, but they don’t actually exist. And here was this bloke, proving all my subconscious assumptions wrong.
As the week passed I began to realise that everyone had their own story. From the people visiting the 9/11 memorial to the woman we heard in the street saying “The other day I was on the train and I saw all these Amish people!” to the man who thought cherish was spelt with two “r”s to the model who, when asked if she was a model, responded with “Why, do you think I’m pretty?”. They all have their own lives and stories and know a culture that’s so different to mine that I barely understand it. Quite often they seemed, let’s be honest, extremely stupid to me. But I’m not going to lie, if anyone had heard me exclaim “So where is the Statue of Liberty anyway?” as I stood on Liberty Island looking at the New York skyline with said statue right behind me, they would probably think I was the biggest idiot in the world. (Just to clarify, I meant the Empire State Building when I said that!)
Making assumptions is one of the easiest things to do. We make snap judgements every day. Whether it’s because of what someone is wearing, or what they look like or something you hear them say as you pass them in the street. But we all have days when we don’t look our best, or we all look back on photos thinking “What was I wearing?”. And as I said earlier, we all have stupid moments. Some more regular than others, but we all have them. We get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget that everyone has a story to tell. They’re not just random people on the street placed there for our amusement, so we can laugh at them or marvel at their culture. They are real people with real feelings and memories and lives.
It’s quite weird to think that everybody you walk past in the street has a tale to tell. There is no person on this earth who doesn’t. It is, of course, impossible to hear every one of them. But I think that if we at least appreciate they exist, and hear as many as we can…then maybe we’re making other people’s days a little bit easier. That man in the park certainly seemed to enjoy telling his story. Who knows what a difference it can make?