Archives for posts with tag: Stranger

This is a topic I’ve written on before, but it’s one I find really interesting and rewarding. One of the things that for me separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is that people we don’t even know will help us out or do us a favour. Often when we least expect it.

My first proper job after college was in Liverpool, where I was a graduate trainee with an insurance company. A bunch of us had started out at the same time, and so we had a ready made social group which tended to make us burn the candle at both ends.

I was taking the local train home one evening, after a particularly long week of ‘word hard, play hard’. Across from me was a bearded man, rough looking and shabby, with a beanie on. The kind of chap you might not sit down next to if faced with a choice of empty seats.

My regular train ride home was about 20 minutes, so I risked a tiny bit of shut-eye, as I’m a very light sleeper. The next thing I knew, I got a tap on the knee from the guy across from me, who I was convinced I had never seen before.

“I think this is your stop mate.” I look out the window, and indeed it was. I thanked him and bolted out of the carriage, without asking him how on earth he knew. I’m a terrible one for forming an opinion on someone from appearances, and yet again I was proved wrong. Now there’s probably a 1 in 10,000 chance he was a stalker, and a 9,999/10,000 chance he was a stranger doing someone else a favour and paying it forward.

It kind of restores your faith in humanity for a while. Rather like a story I heard today about a bus full of lads travelling from Dublin to an Irish-speaking hurling tournament¬†in Connemara. They passed an ‘auld fellah’ cutting turf and faced with a field of turf bricks that needed turning up and leaning into each other in wigwam-type shapes for drying. All 40 of them got out and turned the turf in 10 minutes, before getting back on the bus and resuming their journey.

Love that kind of thing :-).

One of the several things that I really like about where I live is that people say hello to you in the street. People you don’t know. Strangers.

I live in a small town – it would be considered a village in my native country – in the west of Ireland. It’s quite normal to say hello, smile, nod or exchange a view on the weather with people you don’t know a few times during a walk through the town. I really like it.

People are familiar with the friendly welcome of the Irish – cead mile failte, or a hundred thousand welcomes and all that – but I suspect you get this level of friendliness in all small places.

You don’t get this in a big city, at least in not a single one I’ve ever been to, and I’ve probably only been to a couple hundred in my life. People don’t make eye contact, their body language is self-protecting, they avoid making any kind of acknowledgement of your presence. Maybe this is because it feels like everything is transient, unsafe, or unfamiliar in a seething population, but to me it’s a pity. We’re social animals after all, and interaction with fellow humans improves our mood, most of the time.

Next time you’re out and about in a city, try saying hello to a couple of passers-by. Better still, when you’re in a city with an underground system, strike up a conversation with someone across from you, across the central walkway I call ‘the well of souls’. The looks you get can be hilarious:

‘What are you doing, talking to me? You’re breaking the code!”

‘What code?’

‘The unwritten code of the city. No talking to anyone you don’t know. Loser!’

Give me the kindness of strangers in small places any time.