Depending on the kindness of strangers can open all kinds of doors, writes Niamh Twomey.
On my travels, I recently found myself alone in Paris. I was moseying along, making my way slowly to the Musée Marmottan– one of the many suggestions that surfaced when I mentioned my whereabouts– when it started to rain. And I mean a proper Galway downpour; no chance I was wearing my feeble summer shoes again in a hurry.
So, I stood in a narrow doorway at the side of a quiet street to wait for it to pass. Not five minutes later, a Parisian man walking passed with an umbrella, stopped and asked where I was going. He just so happened to be an artist, and a translator, and a kind human being. He walked me the twenty minutes to the museum (completely out of his way), sharing his umbrella, and his life story, and excitedly recalling the couple of phrases he had learnt in Irish.
Even in the busy Paris metro, a kind janitor stopped to help me when he saw me struggling to carry my own weight in bulky luggage, and went to get some miraculous piece of plastic from a storeroom to attach my bags together and make my life fifty times easier.
This all happened after I left my home where I lived during my magical year abroad, with two French guys. On my last week there, one of them picked me up in his car and brought me for lunch when I was too hungover to function, and the following weekend, the other brought me on an incredible day trip to a small town called Albi and its beautiful Toulouse-Lautrec museum, just to show me something new and to say goodbye. He then dropped me to the bus with a packed-lunch fit for a queen, after feeding me dinner. I sat on that bus for a whole eight hours with a feeling of awe towards the human race. Who knew people can be so kind?
I then took a bus to Paris, where I stayed in the amazing, luxurious apartment of the grand-uncle of my Au-Pair family from two years ago; with a view of the Eiffel Tower from the sitting room. He gave me an attentive tour of the city, paid for numerous expensive meals, and generally went above and beyond the expectations of a host.
In case you’re wondering; I’m an A cup and will never win a beauty contest– so it’s nothing to do with the way I look.
I think it’s simply to do with the fact that I travel; that I find myself in these situations, where I’m counting on the kindness and goodwill of perfect strangers to carry me on my journey- and I have never been disappointed. I ask strangers directions in broken French, enthusiastically cooked Irish meals for my French housemate throughout the year and constantly insisted to everyone I met that they were more than welcome in my home in Ireland anytime.
I promise you, you will meet the most amazing people all over the world. Travel. It’s the only way to break down boundaries and overcome menacing stereotypes and cultural differences we have built up in our heads. And I think you’ll find that we have a hundred things in common to counter every single difference. We’re all just trying to get by, and live our lives as best we can, and boy can we humans be kind.