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Kindness of Strangers

July 31, 2008

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One of the great things about being a traveler is the many opportunities one gets to see the kindness of strangers. It never ceases to amaze me how people from all walks of life, go out of their way to help. We found the people in Portugal very friendly and helpful, although I must admit we have been lucky to find that almost every where we go.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, A Streetcar Named Desire

What sometimes amazes me is just how far out of their way that people will go to help a stranger. Once we were in a fairly remote part of Portugal and lost. I can not even remember exactly where it was now. Usually our GPS works great and good maps are our backup, but still sometimes we get a little lost and confused as it is easy to take a wrong turn onto small roads that neither maps or GPS seems to be able to see. During one of these times in rural Portugal, a sweet couple, who spoke no English, went out of their way to escort us through a maze of streets until they led us to the freeway.

That made me smile and reminded me of the time that a taxi driver led us around London once when we were lost late at night on a previous trip looking for our hotel. Or the time that sweet guy in Greece, last summer did the same thing as we wandered in the dark after getting off the ferry, which saved us just in the nick of time. All of them went way out of their way to help strangers that they did not know and would never see again and were like gifts from heaven to us. Who knew we had so many guardian angels looking after us?

I hope they can feel our gratitude. Talk about random acts of kindness, we have been blessed with so many on this journey. So many little things every day. It has given me a different perspective. I have always been an optimist, but I am even more trusting, open and optimistic from our experiences on this journey.

Maybe we notice this more on the road because we are more vulnerable as travelers. Perhaps people are kinder to travelers because they think of travelers as guests in their country. Certainly,we tend to ask for help  (such as directions or advice from locals), much more than we would do at home, because we are usually in locations where we have never been before. We even just talk to strangers much more than we would at home, which probably opens up more opportunities.

Sometimes the kindness comes from other travelers who always seem open to sharing. Campers are great and we have adopted the wave-to-all-other-RV's- on-the-road which seems to be the custom in Europe no matter what country we are in or what country the camper is from. One of the joys of camping in Europe is how easy it is to meet others as it is a social kind of place where one meets Europeans from everywhere plus others from places like China, South Africa, South Korea and even an odd American once in a very rare while.

Mozart has been having a blast meeting kids at every campground who become instant best friends and they play together when we are not touring or homeschooling. It has been a wonderful opportunity for her and she has become even  more skilled at connecting with people of all ages. She cherishes the English and Spanish speakers the most since it is the easiest, but has also managed very well even when there was no common language.

I like this Transitions Abroad article and their take on extended travel for children and the advantages.

“It is never too late to build family foundations,” says Dr. Nicholas Levy, a pediatrician affiliated with the Univ. of California, San Diego, who advocates traveling sabbaticals for families. “Travel, particularly international travel, exposes families to different lifestyles that intrinsically bring families together.”

“Adaptation and accommodation are probably the most valuable lessons that we can teach our children,” Levy says.


People really do want to help. If we need some information, strangers always seem willing to tell us how to get to somewhere or give us insider tips. I have stumbled and fallen a couple of times and always there are many people who have come to my aid asking if they can help me up. We are always looking for free or cheap wifi and strangers always point us in the right direction. Many times hotels let us sit in their lobbies and use their wifi for hours for free. People in person or online tell us about great places to go or invite us to visit them in their homes!

When ever we have had a problem, from visits to hospitals, ambulance rides, car wreck, dental work, and more..we have received extraordinary kindness and care.  I remember the taxi driver in Rhodes who spoke no English and the great care and concern he had when he took us to the hospital. The ambulance drivers in Vienna were so kind and ended up giving us presents and buying Mozart a treat! All the dentists I have been to have taken such good care of this dental chicken.

This kind of extended travel  and mobile lifestyle has enriched us in so many ways, not the least of which is to experience the kindness and inner beauty in the ordinary/extraordinary people that we meet every day!

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Renee

What a lovely, thoughtful post! Meeting people from all over the world is one of my favorite parts of camping, either in the US (we heard more languages in the campground bathrooms at the Grand Canyon more than anywhere else) or abroad. People are so much more willing to interact with their neighbors from an rv than an hotel room....

Nadine

Hi!
I agree so totally. Travelers are very special. I could share many examples of this happening to me when I was traveling, but I think it's a two-way thing. As a stranger in a country, you are more vulnerable and probably more open to others. The locals don't see you as a danger because there's no reason for you to stay and encroach.
As for helping people find their way, it's often easier to steer them rather than give them long explanations that they might not understand, or remember.
The main thing, as you say, is to always be thankful and help others whenever you can, keep alive this long string of (even momentary) friendship.
My best wishes to you for a wonderful and happy trip.

Soultravelers3

Thanks Nadine and Rene! There really is a purity in a strange way through traveling and it is nice to hear that others have enjoyed the "kindness of strangers" on their travels!

jamie

According to the (great, great, GREAT!) book I'm reading, The Geography of Bliss, altruism is a basic human need.

As a liberal arts type, I'm a little fuzzy on the science, but researchers measured brainwaves of people engaged in acts of charity.

Which part of the brain lit up when people gave? The primitive part (a.k.a. the food and sex neighborhood).

I found that very cool.

Soultravelers3

Oooh, that does sound like a great book! That really makes sense to me Jamie! I will have to see if I can hunt that book down. ;)

Sean Lannin

Reminds me of the joke "what are the 3 things that a man never says"? 1) I Dont Know 2)I Cant Fix It 3)I Am Lost ...

Getting lost in a foreign country makes you humble quickly. I remember a trip to England my wife and I took some 15 years ago, after spending an hour driving around in circles (or squares as it was nothing but right turns) trying to return a rental car in downtown London my wife just looked at me and started laughing. I got the message and quickly found a place to pull over and ask for directions from a stranger/passerby. We had the car returned in 10 minutes.

I love your website. Great post.

Soultravelers3

Hey Sean! Thanks for the lovely compliments!

Actually, DaVinci is more willing to ask for directions than I am, but it is harder when you do not speak the language. We do not speak Portuguese, but we did attempt to ask for help quite a few times in that situation.

Sometimes you can get by with sign language, but sometimes you can't. We did eventually find someone who spoke some Spanish and English, but he did not know where the campsite was! lol.

cosmetic dentist in san diego

i enjoyed reading your article, i love your site eventhough this is my first time to visit in your site.. i found your site interesting..

-mj-

Dentist Thornhill

The world would be such a better place if everyone would put in just a little effort in helping out those who are less fortunate.

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