The Kindness Of Strangers And Re-Learning How To Be A Decent Human Being After Living In London

Living in London even for a short amount of time completely obliterated everything my parents ever talk me about manners in public. Raised as a polite, chatty, local girl from the beach, chatting to old ladies on park benches and holding the door open for a guy and his toddler was as easy as tying my laces. Letting the person with only one item go in front of me in supermarket queues and commenting on the quality of the weather with every shop clerk I interacted with was second nature to me, which is why when I initially moved to London I was slaughtered like a little lamb by the barging shoulders of the suit wearing rat racers and miserable, life hating retail workers. It wasn’t until I left London for good did I see just how much of an effect the big smoke had had on me, and although I still possess a great deal of love for the city I do see why so many people dislike it and why it supposedly ‘takes ten years off your life.’

Staying with my mum in the small town she lives in, going to places abroad where congestion is a rare dilemma, I noticed how impolite I had become. I found myself entering shops and not greeting the person behind the desk, just thrusting my purchase and bank card at the server in a cafe without so much as a hello. Speed walking down the street like I have a fire up my arse even though I don’t have a particular destination in mind and all I really wanted was a nice relaxing, leisurely stroll. But you see I was/am so used to saying hello and getting nothing back, being constantly pressured to half sprint down the street in fear of getting completely trampled by a middle aged briefcase carrying business owner in winkle pickers who would tut and scoff in my ear in blatant irritation.

London teaches you a way of life that I have completely come to despise, each man for himself; or in my case anxious young woman. Last seat on the bus? MINE. Did I just shove that old lady with a walking stick out the way? Yes, yes I did. This is the 21st century and my needs are as important as hers, besides, I need to rest my matchamoccachaichino between my legs as it’s too hot to hold. I would pick up one end of your buggy and make your life 100% easier in this heavily stressful tube station and help you down the stairs but I really must get the 16.04 tube even though there is one at 16.06 and getting that one instead will make practically zero difference to my arrival time. You just dropped your purse full of coins on the floor? What sick pleasure I will take in watching you struggle not to get your hands stamped on by Kurt Geiger heels while I sit back and do absolutely nothing apart from make you feel extremely self conscious with my glare of disapproval and reluctance to offer a hand.

IMPERATIVE NEW YEARS RESOLUTION* Stop being a rude bastard. Make a serious effort not be so ignorant in public situations. Try, although I am really quite antisocial, to not just shove headphones in ears and open book in the most hostile manor possible, JUST in case old lady next to me on plane wants to initiate the first conversation she’s had with someone in three days. If you like something that someone is wearing, compliment them, I know how nice it feels when I’ve had received them from strangers.

Ask people if they need help if they looked lost or distressed- you never know how your actions could benefit another. In a world that’s often cluttered with negativity, so many people unknowingly living with a ‘glass half empty’ outlook on life, I have parked myself on a little table inside a little cafe (shock) with an Americano, an aubergine and sweet potato tagine and a very nawty cranberry, orange and chocolate blondie.  and I am going to rake through the previous few weeks and for my own benefit as well as yours, write down times where strangers have shown kindness towards me, made me smile and increased my happiness and faith in humanity that little bit extra.

The lady behind the till in said cafe told me she really liked my beret. Today I am sporting a burnt orange coloured beret with half plait half bunchie hair, a super groovy dark blue, purple and green shirt (very fresh prince), leggings and my fleece lined DM Chelsea boots. I am feeling like the groovy millennial my grandparents roll their eyes at in my funky outfit and I am in a very positive mood, tunes are a-playing and the sun is shining and receiving a compliment on my hat was just the ‘beret’ on top of a swell morning… see what I did there?

I was on a flight from Pennsylvania to Colorado not long ago and I ordered a tea and a packet of trail mix from the on air menu, very luxurious of me as a usual, ashamed snack carrier. When the trail mix came I realised it had little biscuits in it and as I am GF I offered them to the old couple sat beside me who took them gratefully. Next thing I know, the lady is rummaging through her bag for a Satsuma for me and we are in deep discussion about all the places she has travelled in Europe whilst nibbling on juicy orange segments. She was so sweet, her husband was an artist and they lived in a gorgeous house by a big beautiful lake in the mountains (I got a slideshow of the newly renovated kitchen and the view out the window from the office), her positive attitude towards my life style kept me warm for the rest of the evening.

Whilst I was in Pennsylvania I stayed with my friend Jayna and her family. I met Jayna when I was around 12 after googling ‘Penpal’ one day after school, having completely romanticised the idea of writing letters to a mysterious friend from some far off land. After clicking on the first site I came across and initiating a conversation with the first American girl on the list, our friendship blossomed into an excited exchange of mail, including the odd package containing quintessential goodies from our home countries, I’d send her Englis-flag-adorned hair bands and she’d send me Twizzlers, it was beautiful.

We finally met when my Dad took me to New York when I was 14, and I finally made the trip to Pittsburgh where she lives with her lovely parents, brother and two sisters. They showed me complete kindness and hospitality, Jayna introduced me to her wonderful friends and I just felt like a big blob of love and happiness the whole time. So although not COMPLETE strangers-I was so well received by everyone in the circle and could actually not breathe when they were imitating the English accent and describing their ‘dream English husbands’ to me, in all their tweed suits and mustard scarves. Watch Inbetweeners and then get back to me.

For someone who lives in the airport and averages a good thirty flights a year, I still shit myself when the plane takes off. I don’t have a fear of flying and as soon as we are airborn I kick off my shoes, swallow two Nytols, chug a large glass of red and I’m asleep before the seatbelt signs are off, however I can’t help my usually rational mind wandering to thoughts of a wing snapping off on ascent or a random explosion in the hold. As the rumbling gets started and I grip the pages of my book until my knuckles are white, I plaster on an utter false look of nonchalance across my now sweating face and swallow to stop the bile rising in my throat.

Usually it’s pretty smooth, but on my flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago in December the plane decided it was going to have a little dance and I’m quite surprised I didn’t come out with a full pair of pants. Luckily it wasn’t just me suffering, in fact the poor girl next to me looked like she was actually going to pass out and kept dramatically groaning and shoving her face in her hands, fair enough though it was absolutely hideous. After an hour of sheer gut wrenching turbulence we landed on the ground, the first time I’d ever ‘thanked’ the universe for a safe arrival. I looked up and patted/stroked the clearly distressed girl on the shoulder and we exchanged a nervous giggle and a look of sheer relief, she seemed to appreciate my reassurance.

Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I am still a bit wary of tracksuit donned lads hanging around on shop corners as I feel I’m going to be requested to ‘gee us a blow job luv’ and I really don’t want to do that, funnily enough. But I should remember that you really can’t judge a book by its cover these days and that I should approach a group of lads like I naturally would a group of tattooed guys whose stigma has now thankfully (mostly) evaporated.

My mum and I were chuckle-brothering a box of books to a charity shop yesterday, it was almost too much for my tiny underworked arm muscles to bare and my mum was tripping over her own feet as shuffled like utter twats along the path, in full view of the main road and all its passing traffic. Excellent. I’d just about given up when I heard a voice from behind ask in my home accent of Pompey Geeza, if we’d like a hand. Angels. Two guys with ‘sweet fade’ haircuts and questionable teeth grabbed the box of my mum and I and hauled it all the way to the charity shop, bless them. I felt a bit uncomfortable stumbling after them like the pathetic female I am but sometimes it is nice for a man to be a gentleman and a lady to be a lady- rules still sometimes apply.

A guy on Bumble said I was cute and very funny for a girl. Err, thanks I guess, sort of?

When I first arrived in Boulder, Colorado it was about nine at night and my friends’ boyfriend who I’d never met kindly came and got me from the airport. We drove the forty five minutes past Denver and back into B where we headed straight for the student filled Mexican/bar ‘Illegal Pete’s’ where they both work rolling Burritos and trying to survive the horrors that are frat boys and sorority girls. As soon as we walked through the doors we were met with an overwhelming smell of melted cheese, underachievement and mommys washing detergent, it was packed. I nervously hung back as my anxiousness starting to bubble inside me and seeing this I was handed a Tequila by Tashi, my friend Laurens boyfriend, some salt and a wedge of lime, cheers’ed, and from being a stranger an hour before we were now best pals from there on out.

There’s a lot of things to be said about American’s but let it never be said that they aren’t hospitable. More often than not they can’t do enough for you, and I found this a lot while I was travelling there recently. Even the train guards or the bus drivers, who in England are the well known to be the most miserable bastards you ever meet, were polite and helpful. One bus driver in particular opened his doors to those of us waiting in the pouring rain for our bus, and let us sit down as he blasted the heating and whistled queen songs. Poor guy told every single person that came to the door that ‘no, this wasn’t the bus to DC but you’re welcome to sit on this one out of the rain until yours arrives.’ And to one oriental couple in particular a fantastic game of charades broke out in the exasperating attempt to explain ‘NOT YOUR BUS, NEXT BUS, SIT HERE, OUT RAIN, UNDERSTAND? NO? DOWN UMBRELLA PLEASE! OUCH!’

Talking of welcoming Yanks, my friend Patricia and I (if you’re a regular reader you’ll remember that I met Patricia in Cape Town in the summer last year and we bonded over our mutual love for food, as per, and she just so happened to be in NYC same time as me!!) made last minute plans to see in the New Year together in Manhattan. I, being the useless blonde that I so often am, forgot to bring my ID and didn’t realise until I was an hour into my journey from Newark. I’m not a big drinker as it is and when I DO drink it’s usually with my ship’s crew in countries where the kids are at the bar sipping on rum with a straw whilst doing their colouring. So not only were my chances of getting served slim because it was America, even worse New York City, it was also New Years Eve. Fat chance. Anyway we decided to head to the nearest Irish bar as using combined ‘logic’ we assumed that they were the least likely to care about IDing… and as luck would have it we were right.

I slipped in, Patricia ordered the drinks, and we stood awkwardly in the middle of the room soaking wet while everyone else was sat down eating or at the bar. Then we get a little wave from a girl and a guy sat at a little table near the entrance who ask us if we want to join them at their table, if we don’t mind them ordering some food, bless their souls. She even got up and went and got a chair for me- almost teared up a little bit. Turned out it was a brother and sister from Ohio who had come to the city for Christmas and New Years, just like me, and they were as nice as pie.

Off topic but worth mentioning, after a few drinks and a chat with them Patricia and I headed off and had what has to be the jammiest night of my life. We found a bar, slipped in unnoticed not only without being ID’d but also avoiding the $20 cover charge, got a seat at the bar (unheard of on NYE) only ordered a lime and soda each and took it in turns to pour in the vodka we’d bought for $10 at the corner shop, got absolutely smashed on free champagne and had an all round class night out for no more than $15 each… classic.

I am very pleased to say that I get a lot of lovely feedback on my blog posts and although I love hearing what my friends and family think, the comments that mean the most are the ones from strangers. Over the past year I have had a few that have really stuck in my mind, one of which was from someone who told me they’d been having a really hard time recently and reading my words reminded them why life was worth living. That I had inspired them to revaluate things and to try to improve their situation, and that they found a lot of comfort in the things that I had written. As someone whose main purpose of writing is to make others feel how I feel when I read something that inspires me, to make others smile or to alter a perspective, to hear something like that really means the world to me and makes me feel all fuzzy inside. I love it.

Hasn’t been the most plentiful few months for ‘good deeds’ as such, but there has been many a kindness that I am very thankful for. Have a little think about the nice bits of your winter, it makes you feel nice, honest!

C.J.R xox

2 Comments Add yours

    1. charlotravel says:

      Thanks very much 😁


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