People Are Strange When You’re a Stranger

Have you ever heard of the term “philoxenia”? Translated from Greek, it means the friend of a stranger. While living in a foreign country with nothing but strangers, it’s something everyone needs. Like most of the world, I am in the process of healing from the traumas brought on by the past couple of years. For a while, healing to me was partying and making a pitiful attempt to distract myself from the painful truths of life. I was missing something deep down. 

It wasn’t until I began traveling on my own that I realized that what I had been missing was inside of me the whole time, waiting to come to the surface. Discovering this was not easy though, and it required me to take on one of my greatest fears: talking to people. I mean really talking to people. The funny thing about humans is that we can all relate to two truths. We are all born and eventually, we will all die as well. But what happens between those two events is completely unique to every single soul that has ever inhabited this planet. So imagine how much I was missing out on by never going out of my way to get to know people.

Now going back to the topic at hand, this philoxenia can also describe the hospitality we experience when meeting others, no matter their identity. In Ariccia, I was met by people who were eager to welcome us into their homes or share their lives with us. This basic kindness showed me that, despite how awful the world can be sometimes, there is always someone who cares. 

This is why Italy is special. The landscape enough can bring me to tears, with the mist clinging to the mountains in the early morning or the thunderstorms that echo across the whole valley like a bellowing cry from the heavens. But what truly makes the difference, is the warmth of the people (oh and the wine). The people are personifications of philoxenia itself; from the servers who are patient with my broken Italian to the winemakers who eagerly share their passions with us in their vineyard. Every time one of these connections is made, I am shown a new dimension of the human race.  I’m not sure if I would have ever discovered my own philoxenia had I not experienced all the pain of the past. As much as it hurt, it challenged me to push my boundaries and brought me to Italy. I now recognize that the people I meet along the way are more than just mere side characters in the story of my life. They are vibrant, distinct souls, that each have something to show you.

-Liv Elam