How can I be with strangers


Encounters with strangers are not a phenomenon of the present; they have always existed. It is a question of attitude, whether one approaches "strangers" positively or negatively, with fear or curiosity.

An African refugee looks into his new surroundings in Los Abrigos in the Canary Islands. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


The following section is about a multi-faceted term. The alien may appear as a typical moment of modernity, as a disquieting characteristic of a world with rapidly surmountable distances, which is networked and drawn together. This world seems more in motion than ever before. It facilitates pleasant experiences with distant cultures, and requires a high degree of empathy and logistics when merging different business cultures into a global corporation. This world produces streams of refugees and creates confusion and unintended encounters even in familiar places.

Diverse forms of experience

In order to question such perceptions, it is worthwhile to open one's view historically and to shed light on the term "foreign" from different angles. Because here it can be shown by way of example that the perception of others and the experience of foreignness were always present phenomena that evoked different reactions, both defensive and receptive. The historical view offers parallels to present-day phenomena, but - far more important: the foreign appears in retrospect in very different appearances, under completely changing conditions and in no way as a clearly defined category. Furthermore, it is about the different forms of experiencing foreignness: immigrants, emigrants, hikers and also residents; Strangeness does not simply coincide with migration, but also with its opposite - with staying.

Only what is experienced as such is foreign. Nothing is intrinsically and necessarily alien. The unfamiliar terrain simply appears to be present in the experience; in fact, it is subjectively set and the result of arbitrary classification criteria in the wake of personal motives and social conventions.

The common term connections already show how different, positive as well as negative, the foreign can be lived and experienced: "Foreign fear" is widespread, "foreign determination" refers to dependency, the "foreign body" seems out of place, but it can also be a challenge. The "strange sound" is initially unfamiliar, but can arouse curiosity; "strange" thoughts surprise, can be absurd, but they can also open up new horizons. The way into - today it sounds pathetic - "the foreigner" always had different reasons: It could be undertaken out of curiosity (discovery, expansion), but also out of necessity (displacement, flight, poverty).

No wonder then that it is difficult to formulate a binding theory for the foreign from both a present and a historical perspective.