LIVING FOREIGN, BEING FOREIGN

The lack of sympathy for foreign-born immigrants in this country might have something to do with how few people in the U.S. ever lived in a different country. If you have never had to learn new customs, different cultural values, and another language, you probably don’t realize how complicated it can be.

With the best will in the world, not everyone learns a new language easily. Moreover, many customs are so ‘built in” to the way we interact with others, it can be hard to “unlearn” them. 

Smiling at strangers, for example, is very American. We do it automatically unless we are alarmed or frightened. In some other countries — Israel was one — a woman smiling casually at an unfamiliar man is considered a “come on.” Learning to not smile automatically is difficult. It’s a physical habit learned when we are very young.

I was also surprisingly bad at learning Hebrew. In almost a decade, I never became fluent. My son, on the other hand, was fluent in a few months. He had always been able to out-talk me in English, but a few months in Israel and he could out-talk me in two languages at the same time.

Israel was, overall, welcoming to newcomers. America, not so much. That makes everything harder for someone new to the country. Considering most non-Native people in the U.S. are immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants — being nice shouldn’t be all that difficult. Remember your past. Remember your grandparents. Be civil and perhaps even a bit generous.

If you were never an immigrant, someone in your ancestry probably was. Being kind to those who come here from elsewhere should not be all a trial. Give it a try.

Hating foreigners is like hating yourself. 

THE MYTH OF PRIVACY

Who really thinks they have any privacy remaining?

What a shock it has been, discovering Facebook misused our personal data. Who could have imagined such a thing! Not.

All those cute little games on Facebook were a way for a sleazy political group to gather personal information about us and try to twist us to their goals. Like we didn’t already know that.

I also know people on the internet with blogs who think they are anonymous. They are anonymous from me, but that’s because I’m not interested enough to search for their real data. But — anyone who wants to know can find out anything they want about me or you or pretty much anyone. That’s reality.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Do you believe you are really hiding from anyone who is actively seeking your personal information? Because I can assure you, the only person you are fooling is you.

I stopped worrying about privacy when I began using the Internet. I was working in tech and I knew that everything you ever put out there stays out there. Forever. That was the end of whatever remained of our privacy — and there wasn’t much, even then.

Yet, the myth remains that we have privacy left to lose. Some folks believe we can trust our phone company, our devices, our ISPs, our government, and our postal system to keep their noses out of our private lives. This hasn’t been true probably ever, but certainly since before I was born.

Every form we’ve filled out in the past 15 years is on a computer that can be hacked — and for all we know, already has been hacked. Or is being hacked as I write this.

Everything is out there. It can be gathered by those who make money grabbing it. Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA and postal system were invading our mail and telephone calls when Eisenhower was president.

As long as there have been governments, they’ve been spying on citizens. Their own citizens and any others they can find. These days, I’m sure everyone is spying on us. Advertisers, political hackers, our government, our ISP. Our bank. Every company that sells a product you bought or might buy someday is watching you.

Each advertisement you click, any product you buy, every time you use that “discount” card for your groceries or gasoline or whatever, your personal data goes into a file. A data mining file. Which is for sale. Anyone can buy it.

Facebook is a tiny piece of a huge pie and we are the slices.

Should we worry about being careful what we say and to whom you say it?

Maybe. Or maybe not. It may not matter what we do or say. The amount of information being gathered by everyone about all of us is monumental. Gazillions of pages and lines of data.

The good news? There’s no way on earth they can sort through all of that information. The bad news? They have all that information.

I’m sure, by the way, that nothing that happened on Facebook or anywhere on social media changed my vote or could change my vote. I  bet they didn’t change yours either. We don’t get our information from Facebook memes or Twitter tweets.

No one can fix your vote if you think for yourself.