Let’s say I give you a cup of water, and you say “Thank you”, and my response back is, “You’re welcome.” – what my response is actually saying is, “You are welcome into my space.  You are welcome here.”

Think about the expression “Welcome home!”.  Why do we say that? Or why do families place a “welcome mat” by the front door?  It’s a way of communicating that you are not viewed as a stranger.

I was in Dresden, Germany in the early 2000’s – the days when roaming charges were astronomical and tourists would hang out in internet cafes.  Across the street was a gang drinking heavily. I felt intimidated by their ‘edge’ and their loudness. Each time I went to the cafe, I would cross the street before reaching them, to avoid any uncomfortable interaction.

One morning, I stepped out of the cafe and looked over at the group.  With a lot of curiosity, I wanted to see what would happen if I walked on their side of the street.  So, I did. What appeared to be the leader of the group, called out to me in German.  I stopped and smiled. The only word I understood was “English”.

“Yes, I speak English.”

He walked towards me, “England?”

“No”, I responded.


“No, not Australia.”

At the time I lived in Canada and I responded, “Canada.”

Laughing, he mimicked, “Ahhh, Can-a-dah.”

A few of his mates joined him.

At that point, I felt nervous.  I instinctively put my hand on his shoulder and said, “We’re friends, yes?  Me and you? Friends? Yes?”

He looked me in the eyes and laughed again, “Haha.  Yes, friends!”

Then, something happened.  The atmosphere changed. I wonder, looking back, if it’s because my actions communicated, “We are no longer strangers.”

I reached into my bag and found a few Euro coins and gave them to him.  He laughed again and said, “Thank you!”. His friends also thought that was funny.  I responded, “You’re welcome.”

The best part of this story?  He shook my hand before I left.

All these years later, this memory still carries a strong impact within me.

Offering a welcoming space is a powerful invitation of peace.

Today, I’m more committed than ever to extend my ‘welcoming space’ to others, including strangers:  wherever I am, whomever I’m with, and at any given time.

These are the memories that have been resurfacing in my life this year; things I innocently and naively did in the past.  I’ve been cherishing these moments, reflecting on them. It’s been wonderfully restorative.

When you say “you’re welcome”, you’re choosing to convey to the individual, “You are welcome in my space.  Right now, in this moment, you are not a stranger.”

Will the individual know this is your intent?  Probably not! But, that’s not the point. The point is, you get to choose to convey, “You are welcome within my residence”.

What would happen if we would each commit to being more aware of how we respond to strangers?

Let’s, together, re-instate the power of this two-word sentence.

Karen Thrall