It's a Small World, After All

In the late 1980's I spent a year in Silicon Valley, working for a high-tech telecom products company. One of the friends I made while working there was an Iranian guy, who lived in San Francisco and commuted the short distance by car. Hossein was very cordial, and highly educated. Some weekends I would visit him in the city and we would eat dinner together at a restaurant in North Beach. Hossein's father was a diplomat when he was growing up, so he had lived in a number of European cities and had lots of stories to tell. Sometimes he would kid me, while enjoying an after dinner cigar and brandy, about marrying me off to one of his girl cousins in Tehran, since I not only had a good job, but like a good Muslim I didn't smoke or drink. One evening he told me that he was returning to Tehran to head up a government telecom research facility. We stayed in touch, but I never saw him again.

During the Christmas season in 1990, I was shopping at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle with my girlfriend and as we passed a perfume counter, she sprayed a bit of Chanel No. 5 on her wrist from a sample bottle. Before we reached the end of the counter a thickly accented saleswoman's voice tracked us from behind, "No, no , no. That's not the way we try our perfume in Europe!". I was wondering just how one could test perfume otherwise, when she began waving a tissue and spritzing perfume at it. "Aha, and just where do you come from in Europe?", I asked, thinking that her accent indicated elswhere. "Oh", she said, "well, I was born in Tehran, but I really grew up in Vienna". I had just received a holiday card from my friend Hossein and I still had it with me in my backpack. I said, "That's funny, I just got a card from a friend who was also born in Tehran and grew up in Vienna." Her jaw dropped as she stared at me and asked in a quivering voice, "Hossein?". Mind you, in some countries with large populations, saying "Hossein" is like saying "Joe". But then she added "Hossein... Serri?". I couldn't resist pulling the card out of my backpack and showing it to her. She burst into tears and said she and Hossein had been best friends growing up and that she hadn't seen him since they were both fourteen. When I knew Hossein he was already in his early forties, so we're talking about almost thirty years, here. The woman gave me her business card and I promised to pass her contact information along to Hossein.

Back at home, I couldn't resist placing a call to Tehran. I thanked Hossein for the card he sent and told him I had just run into an old friend of his, a woman he apparently grew up with in Vienna. "Naomi?", he asked, before I even had a chance to say her name. "Yes", I said, hearing what sounded like sobs on the other end. "I lost track of her so many years ago, this is like a miracle finding her again, my friend", he cried. "Yes", I said, "it's a small world".

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...a Czech-speaking American expat living in Prague since 1993.

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