As I sat in the SFO terminal waiting for the flight that would take me to Germany, I experienced unwarranted ignorance and malice that would put the rest of the trip into stark relief.

Across from me sat a man who had an obvious distaste of Asian individuals. Not only did he murmur “I think I’ve died and gone to hell” to his buddy when an Asian family sat next to him, and then proceeded to change seats with a huff, he then continued to make snide comments “translating” what the family was saying in a very mocking and derogatory tone. I’m glad the family wasn’t close enough to hear the man’s naked disrespect.

I had to wonder – he was waiting for an international flight, the same as I was. Did he lack an awareness that other countries, cultures, and peoples exist? I understand having closely-held biases, even if I don’t agree with them, but to be so brazen about them threw me for a loop.

I once heard that racists and those with other intolerant views think that everyone feels the same way, they’re just the ones dedicated enough to say something. Like a pastor urging people to ignore those “homosexual urges” that he doesn’t realize other people just don’t have.

It genuinely made me reflect on what it would take for me to get involved in that situation. I believe on the whole we (Americans? Humans?) are taught to not make a fuss, to let someone else deal with uncomfortable scenes. I came to the decision that, if the racist man’s comments became loud or mocking enough for the family to hear, that’s when I would step in. I tried to balance the family’s comfort into the equation – if I drew attention to a situation they weren’t aware of, it may make them feel awkward.

Luckily the man and his friend did not get onto our plane, and the rest of the voyage was a very pleasant experience, limited legroom notwithstanding.

Something that really struck me was how amazing it was to hear so many different languages and accents in such a confined space. Seated around us were people from Germany, Britain, France, Spain, and places farther afield, and to hear them either speaking their native tongues or English with their dispirate accents was a very warming and heartening contrast to what I had experienced in the terminal.

Here in the area North of San Francisco often foreign-language speakers or those with a shared ancestry seem to clump together or stay largely among themselves. I’ve become very accustomed to hearing people who talk like me, with accents like mine, day in and day out. Even though there may be a rich multicultural heritage around me, I’m often isolated from it.

It felt genuinely exciting and refreshing to hear such a mix of accents and languages in one place – here were parties of twos and threes talking and enjoying each other’s company, as we all shared this experience of a long, trans-Atlantic flight.

Once we got into the air, it was a great way to start my vacation.