Thank you Facebook for adding the “See Translation” feature. That, along with Google Translate, is the only way I can keep track of some of my friends. On any given day I may find posts or comments from friends in French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Serbian, Bulgarian, Dutch, Italian, Croatian, Bosnian, or Vietnamese. Occasionally I’ll come across German, Filipino (technically, Tagalog), Romanian, Slovenian, and even Tamil. I had to look that last one up; apparently it’s a language found mostly in southern India and Sri Lanka.
So how did all these friends-with-languages end up on my feed? After all, other than a few badly pronounced words here and there I don’t speak any language other than English (and on some days the English is questionable). There are a few reasons.
Reason one is I’ve been lucky enough to live briefly overseas on three different occasions. The first two were very short; Bermuda for two months and Edinburgh for three months. The most recent was a three-year secondment to Brussels for work, during which I met many great people from all over Europe.
I also like to travel and have visited something like three dozen countries. So I have friends all over the world (some day I need to map their locations). When communicating with me they all use English, but among their friends they naturally use their primary languages.
Another reason is Nikola Tesla. Born of Serbian heritage in an area that is now part of Croatia, Tesla is the hero of the region. Because of my book on Tesla I’ve come to know many people who have dedicated themselves to promoting his memory. Many of those people are Serbian, but there are also followers who are Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, and even the aforementioned Sri Lanka. There are also Tesla clubs in Canada, Turkey, Australia, and elsewhere. Tesla gets around.
Interestingly, many of these friends no longer live in their home countries. One Italian friend lives in The Netherlands; a Bulgarian friend lives in Brussels; a Romanian friend, and many others, now live in the United States. Many of them travel for work or pleasure (or for work and pleasure). Definitely a cosmopolitan lot.
Because of time differences I can expect to see Facebook posts 24 hours a day. In the mornings I may see more from Europe, which is 5-6 hours ahead. Posts from Asia and Australia tend to come at both ends of my waking day since they fall into a time shift of 10 to 14 hours. South America is roughly on the same schedule as the U.S., and the U.S., of course, spreads three time zones. As I write this is strikes me that I haven’t seen anyone from Africa, a continent I’ve somehow missed in my travels to date (along with Antarctica, which I suspect offers limited opportunities for Facebooking). China also offers limited contact because they block access to Facebook. That’s a story in itself.
I enjoy seeing all the different languages and cultures popping up in my feed, though admittedly I don’t spend the day Google-Translating. Having international friends gives me further insight into people; a useful skill for a writer. One of those insights, both from traveling abroad and reading Facebook feeds, is that people are basically all very different and all very much the same. We all desire love and laughter, peace and tranquility, excitement and meaning. We may seek them in different ways or have different priorities, but we all want happiness. And that’s a good thing.
There is one other diversity insight revealed by my Facebook feed. Some of my friends identify themselves as rabid left wing liberals while others identify as rabid right wing conservatives. Periodically my eyes roll and my head shakes as I scan the feeds. Luckily, most of my friends are normal. Well, mostly normal.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.