Negotiating Cross-Cultural Escalators

Česky: Eskalátor, Palác Flora, Praha

I watched the little girl with fascination and amusement.

It was clear by her look of wonder and terror that she had never been on, or near, an escalator.  She stepped toward it hesitantly.

What was this moving staircase? And how on earth was she to ride it.

“Come on! It’s ok! We’ll ride it together” the little girl beside her was gently persistent.

They couldn’t have been more different. The one, dark skin with deep brown eyes and tight curls falling over her round face; the other fair with skin easily burned by the sun, blue eyes as deep as the other’s were brown. Hair past her shoulders, wispy, straight and blonde.

I wanted to covertly snap a picture, so taken was I with this interaction and the contrast. But I would have to be content with the picture in my mind and the words already forming in my head.

She continued to hesitate as the blonde girl coached her along.

“It will be fun, you’ll see”

I have no idea what their story was. More family members seemingly belonging to the blonde girl were at the bottom of the escalator, laughing and looking up, calling out encouragement.

It was a perfect picture of a cultural broker. The darker-skinned girl had never seen, much less ridden, on an escalator. She had no idea if she could trust it. She was in strange territory, away from what she knew, away from comfort and knowing the rules. The girl with her spoke encouragement until they both got on, holding hands.

I left as I heard their laughter echoing upwards.

When we’re crossing into foreign territory it’s comforting to have a hand to hold, someone who can, and will, tell us it will be okay. Someone who won’t mock, but gently coaxes, knowing that we’ll get on when we feel ready.

Sometimes the foreign land is an escalator, other times it’s a crowded bazaar, no matter – the feelings are the same.

We hesitate. 

We are part enamored and part terrified.

We are a good bit overwhelmed. 

The last thing I saw as I turned were two heads close together, one dark and one light, laughing and moving forward.

I wish all cross-cultural encounters were this successful. Would that more would result in two heads together in mutual laughter and hope, negotiating the escalators of cross-cultural living and communicating.

12 thoughts on “Negotiating Cross-Cultural Escalators

    1. Aimee!! This is so wonderful to see you here! How are you? And thank you for these words. I was up in Western Mass (At UMASS) a week or so ago and felt so sad driving those streets, going past my parents apartment.


  1. I love this post!! What a beautiful image you painted with words . . . I’ll remember it when I try to explain what a cultural broker does and is: someone who interprets, encourages, supports, and comforts while guiding toward an experience or an understanding that might otherwise have been lost. And I love Bettie’s restating from your friend Jonathan’s article of the Pushtu proverb: “It takes two hands to clap!”


    1. It really was a beautiful picture of that – and so completely innocent, no “what will I get out of this” sort of stuff that you see in those of us who are older ….!


  2. I so identify with the little girls. Sometimes in another country is frightening even though it’s exciting. And usually the very people that laugh you will help you after they calm down from laughing.


    1. I think you’re exactly right. Part of this crosscultural piece is being able to laugh with and at ourselves. This was a great illustration of good laughter that helps you move along, doesn’t mock.


  3. Marilyn, a few days ago an article by Jonathan appeared in our local newspaper. It had been previously published elsewhere. Anyhow, he quoted a Pushtu proverb that aptly illustrates your blog today: “It takes two hands to clap.”


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