As children we are told not to trust you. You are big and scary and the world is evil so don’t step outside of your bubble because it might not be safe. Although yes, it is better to be safe than sorry and I am hardly a tourist who takes major risks.
But there are so many helpful strangers just around the corner. From those who notice lost looks in subways and come over to try and help, to old ladies who drag far larger security guards over when I fail at basic communication just for me (and often when I am too afraid to ask said guards for help), to the strangers who sit opposite me in coffee shops, often just to ask why I am in their city, why I am alone and what am I doing, you provide essential moments of company (and a favourable impression on the people of your city!).
To bus stop strangers who smile and then chat while we wait and invite me to grab lunch, I don’t always go, but thank you. To bus drivers who just smile at the silly tourist when I butcher the name of where I am going and then shout it out or gesture at me so that I get off at the right place. To the strangers in hostel rooms or overnight train carriages I often automatically assume might steal my stuff- you are often lovely even if it takes courage some time to chat to you- I miss you a lot even though I speak to some of you regularly. To those hostel mates I never properly meet because we are in and out at different times; I hope I didn’t wake you up with early starts.
To strangers who just want to practice English or a sentence or two, or are missing home and “please can I speak to you in English I haven’t spoken it in weeks”, I feel you, I ring home too sometimes just to have an actual, unstilted conversation with someone who has known me for longer than two days. To those who let me tag along the day I meet them, to a new island or a theme park that wasn’t on my itinerary, or even just to grab dinner; it’s nice to have the chance to go with someone for a change opposed to on my own.
To people who tell me my bag is open, or I’ve dropped something when I assume they’re trying to steal something, or help me reach stuff (because independent traveller I may be there are still certain height issues I don’t like to be reminded of that cause me struggle). To the security guards who try and ask me things I cannot comprehend (do I look like a security threat?), and the wait staff who don’t laugh when I ask for a table for one.
The whole world is full of strangers, and it would be a shame not to explore simply because of a little fear. Everyone you meet is a stranger at some point, and just because they don’t speak your language or you do not have sustained contact does not mean that all strangers are bad people. Some may be. There are nasty strangers everywhere (even at home), strangers who follow you through the subways, strangers who call out to you and strangers who you want to watch your drink round; but the vast majority of strangers show you the good of humanity. Something especially needed when you are feeling down or lonely or lost.
I myself am a stranger to many, and when I offer help to other strangers, because it has been offered so so many times to me, I thank those who take me up on it, trusting me for the two seconds needed to haul their bag up or pointing them in the right direction.
So thank you strangers,
I hope we meet soon.