Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Everyone has a story to tell


 Certainly an adage commonly spouted by travel writers and cheesy journalists, but every so often you meet someone who reminds you that cliches have become so for a reason. Everyone has a story, and if you're lucky, you'll meet someone with an epic one.

More often than not, this will be someone you meet travelling. After all, the type of places that world voyagers tend to frequent are not as different (for the most part, most of us are not pathfinders or trailblazers) as you might think, and will depend on travel guides and previous recommendations. Like the time I met a Portuguese law lecturer in Thailand who was teaching in Macau. Or the investment banker who chucked it all in to travel the world for three years on his belated quest to 'find himself'. If you've been travelling, you know the types. But not every great 'I met this bloke' anecdote has to begin with a pretentious, "While I was backpacking across Western Europe..." (Get this reference without googling it and win a high-five from me!) I find it infinitely more special when you meet someone with an awesome back-story on the bus. Or a park bench. Or, if you're really lucky, a launderette.

Now, the thing about London (central London mostly) is that although it's filled with some of the most amazing people you'll ever meet, between those people, taking up space and consuming oxygen, are a bunch of complete twats. For every 'Good morning' cheerily piped into your caffeine-and-sleep-deprived face first thing in the morning, is a snarled 'get out of the way and look where you're going'. I like to believe that on a weekend, or even just at the evening, in their own element, these people are charming and generous individuals. But catch them at King's Cross station at 8.30 in the morning and they become brooding ogres. Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades. You keep an eye out, walk fast (at London speed. Londoners and, from what I've heard, New York-ers will know exactly what I'm talking about), don't obstruct public walkways or exits and you never ever talk to a stranger who doesn't address you first.

OK, slight hyperbole there. But as we are, with our Yuppie/Generation Y/Smart-phone culture, everyone's listening to their mp3 players, or reading their copy of Twilight, or burying their faces into their Daily Express. Just go on the Tube (the London subway system) at peak commuting hours to see what I'm talking about. God forbid we interact with each other, aside from the socially acceptable "Excuse me. I'm getting off here." And I'll admit I'm just as guilty. I will be that one in the corner listening to my iPod, oblivious to the sounds of world around me.

But London isn't always that bad. At other times, if you look approachable enough you might just encounter that elusive sight: someone smiling at you. That's your in. These are nice people who will give you the time of day, and should you engage them in conversation you can have a nice chinwag. Just don't chase them down the street if they're walking away already. Unless they're hot.

On a night bus I encountered a Turkish couple who upped and moved their life to London because they thought it looked pretty in films. While sitting on a bench in Covent Garden, I had a nice chat with a French girl doing a masters degree who had spent a year interning at a think-tank in Basra. In a launderette just today (it's far too cold in London these days to even think about drying clothes outside or to sap precious heat from the radiators by clothing them in your heavy and damp apparel) I met an Indian man who had pretty much mirrored my trip across South West China, just twelve years before. Uncanny.

So break that most ridiculous of city taboos. Just say hi to someone, test them out with a smile, break out of your bubble of isolation and silence. Because that might just lead to the best half hour of your day.

How about you guys? Have you met anyone just in the street who had a story to tell you?

8 Response to Everyone has a story to tell

15 December 2009 at 04:48

Perhaps it’s because I like the sound of my own voice too much, but I always speak to strangers and the surlier the better. I give everyone a smile and a Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening, etc. And if I'm traveling, I always sit at the bar so I can talk to the other people! Yeah, I’m that girl!

15 December 2009 at 04:52

"While I was backpacking across Western Europe..."

You're my new favourite blogger (and have earned a shoutout on my blog!) for having the Friends reference :) I love that episode and the ordeal with the videotape.

15 December 2009 at 12:02

You always meet the greatest people on public transport. and its people you wouldnt generally mingle with in your friends or family.

Just have to be careful they are not crazy :)

15 December 2009 at 18:20

Totally got the Friends reference there, bud.
I met this adorable old man in front of the coffee machine in the hospital cafeteria and he told me about his wife who was in the hospital, how she made the best coffee, and how he missed her. I didn't say much because I risked bursting out in tears.

16 December 2009 at 03:15

profound. and true. i love to travel, and wish to do far more of it than i do currently. and i love meeting people with stories to tell-they're everywhere

& if i could afford it, i would do exactly what that couple did, and pack up and move my life to london, though i've never so much as visited.

ps: i posted that post secret video on my blog not too long ago. and i wanted to hug them all.

i'm amanda, by the way =]

18 December 2009 at 23:53

smell the cookies

22 December 2009 at 16:15

Hey, great post!

I met a lady once in the train, who told me that she saw me everyday and that she always saw me smiling.. Turns out, the day she spoke to me for the first time I was awfully low on sleep, so she asks me why am I not smiling?

My first thought: Creepy!

About a month later I meet her at the hospital where my mom's admitted for a surgery.. I am super stressed, and you have no clue how nice a smile, a hug, and everything-will-be-alright from this stranger lady made me feel.

P.s.: She wasn't a pervert!

30 December 2009 at 00:39

bstalks - That's an admirable trait, honestly! I'm like that when I'm in a top-of-the-world-mood but oftentimes I'm reluctant to invade people's personal spaces lest it begets a less than favourable reaction!

Ashley - :D

Al - SOMETIMES (only sometimes) the crazier the better. However, a drunken man who reckons without a shade of irony that I look like a Turk (huh?) is probably best treated with caution

Alexandra - Those are simultaneously awesome and terrible times for me when instances like that happen. On one hand you only physically squirm in discomfort, but on the other, there's something quite neighbourly about being someone's rock/shoulder to cry on/sounding board

AL - Just everything you said there - so true and echoing my sentiments pretty much.

SB - wasn't thinking so much pervert as stalker ;)