The kindness of strangers.

5 Nov

I’ve often encountered kindness from strangers when travelling – but not last year. I remember once when I was walking along a street in Athens with a heavy backpack, trying to find the local metro station, and I passed a man standing by a van. ‘Where is …. station?’  I asked him. ‘It’s a long way, and it’s not straightforward’ he said, ‘if you hang on a second, I’ll take you there.’ So he gave me a lift in his van, all the way to the tube station.

Another time, I had a heavy computer and printer, and was trying to get to the centre of Thessaloniki from the airport. I would have taken the bus, but for the computer.  I told the taxi driver, ‘I only have x drachmas; could you drive me nearly as far as the meter will show and then drop me off at the y  hotel because the bureau de change there  will be open today.’ All banks were on strike that day, and the only place you could exchange money was in selected hotels.  It was about half-way there, and very close to the hotel in question when the meter clocked up the amount. I gave him the money, but instead of opening the boot for me to collect the computer, he waved away my protestations, ushered me back into the taxi and drove me all the way into the centre of town, anyway, to another hotel where I could exchange money. I took the computer out this time and he helped me put it in to the foyer.  When I had emerged from the bureau de change he had gone.

These are two small examples of the kindness of strangers, both happened in Greece and a long time ago. Strangers have been kind to me everywhere, though, from the Indonesian Muslim leader of the village who invited us in for lunch after a long trek across miles of paddy fields when the boat returning us from Pulau Dua to Banten had broken down and three Indonesians and myself had  just floated randomly in to somewhere in Java, to the person who helped me find something I had lost in Wroclaw.

I’d like to think that I’d returned this kindness though, occasionally. I was walking down the road in an outlying district of Prague when a British girl who was completely lost  asked me how to get to a hostel I had never heard of. ‘Do you know the name of the street,’ I asked her. She showed me. ‘Wait there for a few minutes,’ I said. I dashed back to my flat which was round the corner, grabbed a map, came back to the girl who was still standing there and showed her the street on the map. I pointed out where we were, and gave her directions using the map, and then gave her the map. This year, if kindness to strangers should be called upon, I hope to continue returning the compliment.

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2 Responses to “The kindness of strangers.”

  1. cristina November 6, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Lovely stories .
    When I was in London, I realized that everyone helped me, and I didn’t even have to ask. It was enough to look at my map and somebody would ask whether I needed help

    • makrotantalo November 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

      It always restores my faith in humanity when strangers are kind, and I’m pleased to hear that you were helped by people from my city.

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