In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Kindness of Strangers.”
Ah, the famous British politeness. I still have a lot of investigation to do to really understand where it comes from. Truly, Britain is an extremely individualistic, competitive society. But truly, people are friendly.
Parts of the reason of my wonderment is explained by the contrast. Contrast with where I used to live before, for 9 years: in Belgium. Oh, Belgian people are friendly, too. But their shyness is often so extreme that it prevents them from expressing any form of friendliness. During 9 years in Belgium, people have kept giving me awkward looks because I said hello on the elevator and greeted the bus drivers.
French are friendly, too. But in France there is always a bit this idea that you should mind your own business – and therefore not talk to strangers.
In Britain, nothing is more normal than politeness. Everywhere, everyone.
Public transportation is one of the places where this is the most obvious; where none is scared to speak up. You get used to it – people share a joke with you, some compliment you on your look, others just kill the time with a friendly chat. And it is even more so at night.
Travelling on the tube late in the evening can be pretty boring, as everyone is tired, some are drunk, all are impatient to come home. But it can be also very rewarding with the most friendly conversations.
A few weeks ago, a young lady sitting next to me was sleeping deeply in one of the last tubes of the evening. As we were getting into the suburbs, I started to worry she would miss her stop.
When the train stopped at the next station, I gently touched her arm and asked her: “Are you OK?”.
She opened her eyes, looked at me and smiled: “Erm, yes.”
Then she looked around, remembered she was on the tube, searched for a sign, realized we were already in Highgate station, and suddenly dashed out, saying “thank you!”.
The train started again. And then a man who was sitting the opposite side and witnessed the whole scene, looked at me and told me: “You are a good person”.
Being a good person? The best compliment I could ever get from a complete stranger. That made my day!