Stranger Danger

Tomorrow, I fly to Iceland. From Iceland, I fly to Norway. From Norway, I sail for Denmark. After that, I make my way overland for the Czech Republic. I will be, in the words of Moses, “a stranger in a strange land.” What adventures lie ahead, I do not know. But I am sure of lovely company and good beer. What more can one ask for?

Well, one thing that could be asked for is security in one’s person and possessions. I suspect that I will be fairly safe. The countries that I will be visiting have significantly more homogeneous populations than the United States, and it has long been known that homogeneous populations tend to have lower crime rates than more mixed populations. But why should this be? In the past, I lived as an ethnic minority within a highly homogeneous society, but that didn’t turn me into a criminal or into a victim. I certainly felt that I benefited from the low crime rates, but if the crime rates were low because of the homogeneity, one would expect my very presence to affect the crime rates. I don’t see how that could be.

In his poem The Stranger, Rudyard Kipling suggests that the problem with mixed societies is that there is no understanding across the races. The narrator prefers “The men of [his] own stock, Bitter bad they may be.” Even a bad countryman is better than a stranger because one thinks like and understands his fellows. They may cheat and tell lies, but they are the same lies. But a stranger can’t be read; can’t be understood; can’t be trusted. Presumably, he can’t be sympathized with either. As a result, it doesn’t feel as bad to wrong him.

But is that really so? Don’t people make a special effort to understand the stranger? Or, probably more relevant to minority crime rates, doesn’t the stranger make an effort to understand the rest of the population?

Unfortunately, all of these questions only prove that I don’t understand the stranger either. Only for me, the stranger is not necessarily the xenos, or foreigner. The stranger is anybody who does not have a keen interest in understanding the foreigner.

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Beer of the week: Stranger American Pale Ale – Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company has a great reputation. Stranger APA is a good example of why. It pours with a nice fluffy head and has hints of apricot in the smell and taste. The beer is quite smooth and the good malt body is backed up with a bit of citrusy hops. The bottle says to expect “spicy rye”, but I don’t think I noticed any rye in the flavor. Not that that is not a problem; I think the beer is very good anyway.

Reading of the week: The Stranger by Rudyard Kipling – A comprehensive study of Kipling on race could be very interesting. The narrator of Gunga Din acknowledged that the “black-faced” Din was a better man than he. The narrator of The Stranger, however, would not associate with Din no matter how good a man he was: “Let the corn be all one sheaf— And the grapes be all one vine, Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge — By bitter bread and wine.”

Question of the week: Kipling’s stranger is not of the narrator’s “stock”. Does that mean from the same family? The same neighborhood? Town? Country? Continent? As an Englishman, Kipling himself was probably descended from Angles, Saxons, and Normans, all of whom were strangers in that land at one time.

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