Well, that’s a first.
Most of our guests are from the USA. Within that “most” category, the majority of them are within the tri-state region. We’ve noticed in the last 5-6 years that the French, German, Italian and British crowd that usually come through in the summer are no longer coming. Not sure why that is. International tourism statistics have shown that folks stopped coming when visas became a little more difficult to obtain. Some foreigners felt that America was not as welcoming as it used to be. Others were concerned about their personal safety as international headlines shared the regular mass shootings in public places. Of course, COVID regulations had a massive impact in the last 2 years. The hospitality/travel industry has been the hardest hit and has taken the longest to bounce back, according to national statistics.
This weekend was a first for us. A Ukranian guest checked in. Then a Russian couple checked in. Then an American (repeat guests) couple.
Little bunny trail…Over the last 20 years, we’ve had die-hard football fans who are Seminoles or Gators stay with us. There have been occasions when some have refused to sit in the same breakfast room with the other.
We’re no strangers to open hostility from folks who have baggage. I’m not talking about the Louis Vuitton or Samsonite kind. I’m talking about folks who refuse to view individuals as individuals. Instead they put them into some sort of People group they don’t like. And they act accordingly.
So as you can imagine, I began to be a little concerned. Our Russian couple checked in first. Lovely people who had lived in Florida for over 30 years.
About an hour later our Ukranian lady and her American husband arrived. She had also lived in Florida for decades. As we chatted about the best restaurants near the bed and breakfast, I asked if her family were safe. Her response was chilling – “no, they’ve all been killed”.
Dreadful silence. What is one to say to that? If someone asked me about my family in Britain and I had to say “they’ve all been killed”, Well, I cannot begin to fathom what that might feel like.
I extended my condolences and we exchanged a few more pleasantries. All the while the thoughts were running through my head: “Should I mention that we have some Russian guests?”
“What might happen when they meet in the breakfast room?”
“This is not mere football rivalry”.
“Will she be repulsed and leave the building?”
Years ago, my French mother-in-law told me that long after the war ended, she had flashbacks whenever she heard someone (perhaps a tourist) speaking German. She held no personal grudge against individuals. But war is trauma. The effects can take decades to go away.
And in case you did not know, Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago. Thousands have been slaughtered, millions have had to flee to other places, often with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.
I decided to act normally.
It’s always been part of my normal greeting to tell guests where other guests were from. Sometimes I name the state, sometimes the region. This is usually to help them introduce themselves, give them something in common to talk about when they meet in our little English garden. We are little, and for many of our regular guests, that is just one of the charming attributes of the Little English Guesthouse. There are only a few other people around at any given time.
Not a hundred, not a crowd of thirty. Just a few people, who are usually like-minded, and enjoy having a quick chat with other guests in the conservatory.
I simply said to my Ukranian-American guest “our guests in the Essex room are Russians, living in South Florida”. She looked at me, seeming surprised, laughed, raised a fist and said “don’t worry, I won’t punch them”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I assume most folks, inside the Little English Guesthouse, and even folks I meet in the grocery store are nice, kind human beings.
These guests were all nice, kind, human beings. But we all have our touch points, our issues, our baggage, as it were.
And war – well, that’s some pretty gargantuan baggage. And the war is ongoing, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight as Putin continues his illegal occupation and bizarre rants of self-defense.
I pondered this for the evening, and visualized their meeting up at breakfast time, or in the conservatory for tea, or perhaps sitting outside in our little English garden. It’s usually where our guests meet each other, mingle and socialize. It’s worked very well for the last 20 years. Some friendships have been formed, and emails exchanged. Oftentimes between FSU or FAMU parents, or other guests who have a lot in common with each other, and have helpful, informative suggestions, emotional or otherwise.
Would you like to know the rest of the story?
They didn’t meet.
My concern was for naught. The Russian couple were up and out the door very early to meet some other people for breakfast. They had actually told me this when they checked in. I guess somehow I forgot this little fact as I visualized a rather uncomfortable and dramatic meeting, with the innkeeper having to perform some diplomatic, United Nations specialized negotiation at the coffeepot.
Also, the Ukranian guest slept in a little late (that happens quite a lot at the Little English Guesthouse!).
In fact only our American couple (who have stayed with us on numerous occasions) appeared in the breakfast room.
It appeared a confrontation was averted. All that pondering, visualization and thinking-up-diplomacy-type-words proved to be an uneconomical use of my tired brain cells.
Lesson learned for my next United Nations exercise over the coffeepot. Don’t ponder, plan, visualize or expend mental energy.
Just act like a normal person and model how to treat individuals, regardless if they’re from Russia, Ukraine or planet Mars, with respect. And particularly without assumption about whatever unseen baggage, one might be toting.
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