Posted by: marykfurness | November 6, 2011

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers; or Not–30 Days of Travel Blogging

Kindness. Strangers.  In this day and age, one would think the two mutually exclusive; but it has not always been so in my experience.

I can’t hear the phrase “the kindess of strangers” without thinking of Tennessee Williams and “A Streetcar Named Desire”.  Williams spent a great deal of his childhood here in Missouri, and his first two years of college right here in my current town of Columbia, MO–he wasn’t particularly fond of our dear old Mizzou, so left for St. Louis to work, then resume his studies.  But I digress.

In “Streetcar”, the very Southern character of Blanche Dubois states that “I have always depended on the kindess of strangers”. While it’s an interesting sentiment, I can’t say I use it as a travel mantra; mine is more along the lines of, “I have always depended on myself, but accept and appreciate the kindness of strangers”.

My parents–who gave me the gift of independent travel at the age of 11–told me on that first plane trip what to do and how to do it.  This was back in the early ’70’s, when you didn’t have security checks, people could walk down to the gate with you, and truly “see you off” on a trip.  I was flying on my own to visit a cousin–DC to upstate NY–and my parents very matter-of-factly prepared me for the possibility of my cousin not being at the airport, how to get in touch with her, what to expect at the airport, how to pick up my suitcase at the luggage carousel, etc.  The flight attendants knew I was travelling alone ( no need for any “minor travelling solo” tag back then) and were kindness personified; all went well. 

There were times when travelling with an elderly parent prompted a random act of kindness.  Travelling to Bulgaria in ’89 with my dad, many people noticed the gray hair and stepped aside to make room for the “old gentleman” ; if they’d only realized exactly how old he was at the time–nearly 90, but he didn’t look it!

My parents also taught me to read and research as much as possible before a trip.  This is something I always do, and allowed my husband, son and I to gratefully accept the kindness of an unnamed, unknown German man in an U-bahn station in Munich 2 years ago.  We had a map, we knew where we wanted to go, we knew what we wanted to do, but weren’t sure which train we should be on.  This lovely gentleman–understanding just enough of our English– assisted us, and we, in our broken German, showered him with effusive, “Danke, danke” as we jumped onto the correct train.

I have also found that kindness given, means kindness repaid.  In a foreign country, if you walk into a shop and smile at the person behind the counter, greet them with the proper greeting of the day for that country, ask for your item(s) politely, and thank them, all shall be well. Knowing the words for “please”, “thank you”, “where is?” and “may I?” go a long way toward finding a new comfort zone in that place. 

And if you’re in the good ol’ U-S-of-A, “please”, “thank you”, and an extra smile for the barista who made your cappucino never hurt either!

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