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Are Mormons America’s Leading Export of Global Pedestrians?

When I muse about the sort of Americans who might one day write in to share first-hand insights on this Global Pedestrian blog of mine, I tend to think of Peace Corps volunteers or backpackers with Eurail passes or even members of the U.S. military. A group I didn’t consider, until reading the latest New York Times Modern Love column, is Mormons.

Holly Welker writes about “strolling through a park in Taichung, Taiwan, hand in hand with my missionary companion at the time, Sister Shi. Although she was Chinese and I American, we both were 22-year-old women serving as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Welker then recounts a small Global Pedestrian moment:

“Before long, we came upon a teenage girl and boy who, like us, were conservatively dressed and holding hands.

“’Will you look at that?’ Sister Shi said in Mandarin, turning slightly to watch them walk away. ‘That’s disgusting.’

“I was a year into my 18-month mission and could talk comfortably in Mandarin. ‘Why?’ I countered. ‘They’re just doing what we’re doing.’

“‘But anyone can look at us and see there’s nothing going on,’ she said. ‘If you look at them, you know something is definitely going on.’

“The teenagers actually struck me as utterly innocent.”

This, as I said, is a small moment. It has no implications for official U.S. policy on hand-holding. Because there is no such thing (I hope). Rather, it’s just a little reminder that American standards of public intimacy are not everyone’s standards of public intimacy. It’s a healthy reminder that, in all things, we should assume that someone out there — maybe someone in a position to really mess things up for us — probably sees “utterly innocent” U.S. actions and spits out the words “That’s disgusting.”

Welker’s piece for Modern Love, which goes on to cover other territory, strikes me as the sort of thing that may have offended some people. This blog isn’t really the place to get into that. But if you are a missionary or any other sort of global pedestrian, I’d be delighted if you would use the comments section below to share any moments of insight you’ve been lucky to experience while walking the world.


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