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Urban Etiquette: The Kindness of Strangers

by Borderstan.com April 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm 0

"Borderstan" "People" "Street""14th Street"

Strangers are just friends I haven’t met. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at candida[AT]borderstan.com.

Borderstan, since a few of my recent posts were a bit more critical of some of the behaviors I’ve observed in our ‘hood, I wanted to share this anecdote with you. I was recently all the way (!) out in West Falls Church, on my way to a conference at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), waiting to catch a connecting bus from the Metro station to get to the USGS.

Now, I am one of those lucky few who “commutes” to work on foot for less than 10 minutes, so I have no daily need for Metro, buses, cars or other means of transportation, be they public or private. This means I am one of those dinosaurs who does not own a SmartCard.

So here I was, a little before 8 a.m. at West Falls Church and I realized I did not have exact change for the connecting bus fare. In fact, I was one dollar short and had the typical $20 yuppie-stamp in my wallet. Of course, there was no vending machine, deli, coffee shop or anything similar available for me to break my $20. I walked up to the bus stop and asked the only lady standing there whether she could possibly break my bill. She didn’t have enough to do that, but she offered me a single instead. She just gave it to me.

I was so grateful and also very embarrassed at not having prepared for this commute properly, being forced to ask a complete stranger for money! It reminded me of the many times I’ve passed people on the street, panhandling for change and not getting very far.  And here I, on my first request, got the help I needed and a pleasant exchange in the bargain.  Our ensuing chat, as we waited for the bus, revealed that we’d both grown up in the same mountain range in the Alps, just on different sides of it: she in Austria, I in Italy.

My one “consolation” for being unprepared was to remember that I’ve done my share of good turns to total strangers (one of these developed into a friendship with a painter from Barcelona, whom I helped as she was trying to negotiate the ticket machines in the Dupont Circle Metro station). So perhaps my turn had come to be assisted, as I had done for others in the past.

All moralizing or conjecture aside, Borderstan, I wish all of us occasions in which to receive the kindness of strangers. May we also get some opportunities to practice that kindness on others. Happy Spring!

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