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I make friends with dogs, and even humans

March 31, 2023

I love making friends with strangers from all over the world. It’s easy to do, if you smile and ask a few polite questions.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I met a guy with an unusual name tending a checkout counter the other day.

“Where you from, man?” I asked.


“O, man. You suffered through the war and got out?”

He nodded. Middle 40s, pushing 50, big guy, not fat, smart and inquisitive.

“What language do you speak there? Kosovan?”

“Albanian,” he said. 

“Aha! What language family is that?”

“Actually, it’s one of the world’s oldest languages.” (That’s correct.)

It was a slow day at the store. We kept talking.

“What did you do in Kosovo?”

“I was an attorney.” But he’d taken a second job, working for the U.S. Embassy. That’s how he got to move to the United States.

“With your wife and kids?”


“That’s so great.” High five.

They’re here legally, with green cards. His wife has a Ph.D. in the subject she teaches in grade school here in Colorado. Their three kids, 12, 8 and 5, are doing fine.

Still no one behind me in line. 

“How do you like Denver?”

“I like it.”

He said his oldest son is a good soccer player. He went to a soccer camp. “I think he has a bright future.”

A fist bump and one more joke and I was out of there, feeling good, on a cold windy day.

You know why I like encounters like this? Not just because I made a friend, and learned something, but because it showed that once in a while, that our country — my country — keeps its promises.

I’ve made other friends like that. One is a wonderful woman I met in an off-leash dog park. She’s from Belarus, a country she loves, but is not planning to return to for a while. We talk about dogs, and languages, about Russia and Ukraine, and I try to show her — with my eyes, my words, our dogs — that I’m glad she’s here — my new neighbor. I hope to learn more from her. What do I know about Belarus? Next to nothing.

Another dog-park friend comes from the Republic of Georgia. He was harder to get to know, because relations between Georgia and Russia are uneasy today, and I could tell from his black eyes and body language that he was uneasy to be talking about it, Russia being a de facto enemy of the United States again. 

But after a few more friendly encounters between our dogs, he saw that I was just curious, and nonjudgmental. He’s smart, glad to be here, in his new homeland, but a bit uneasy with strangers — well, why not?

We bump into each other in the park every other week or so and watch our dogs play and wrestle. They snarl and bare their teeth at each other, but dogs know that’s it’s just fake play. Bluffs. A way to have fun. They chase each other around, one in the lead, then the dog being chased turns around and chases the other one.

Should a dog get caught, he pretend-snarls and the other one lets him go, and the chase resumes. They have so much fun. It’s not like with the Border Patrol.

That’s why I like the dog park. Dogs don’t ask other dogs where they’re from. They just play with each other, while we humans smile and watch their games, from our comfortable posts so far below them.

People from other lands, no matter where they’re from, tend to have a different slant on the United States than people born here. And people who can look at questions from more than one viewpoint tend to have more interesting observations than people who were born and brought up in only one way. 

It can be tricky. One of the counter guys at my corner grocery is from Africa. Obviously. I asked him where he came from and he bristled. “Where are you from?” he boomed.

“Chicago,” I said. “Hey, man, I like it that people are here from all over. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

He was suspicious, and I can see why. But I was telling the truth: I do love it that people come here from all over the world. Most of the people who come here, I daresay, are ambitious, hard-working, imaginative and grateful.

What more do we want?

What are we afraid of?

What’s wrong with us? 

Why are millions of Americans instructed, every day, by politicians and the internet, to pretend to resent people who could remind us, every day, that once in a while, the United States delivers on what we promised.

Once in a while. 


Categories: Op-Ed

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