Friday, September 30, 2011

Thank you routine

As I said, I am not around here much these days.
In August, sadly, someone close to me got a heart attack and went into a coma. I wish I could say he's jumping around, tending his garden and petting his cat like he used to, but unfortunately, almost 2 months later, he still hasn't awoken and it looks like he might never wake up at all.

During a holiday in September I had all the time in the world to take it easy, and during that period I decided to pick up blogging as soon as I felt back to my old, more optimistic self.

In september, since most of the time I was on holiday in Italy and my Italian is barely good enough to be able to buy myself an ice cream, my act of kindness mainly consisted of tipping well and smiling broadly. But since I was able to take a bit of my holiday mood with me, I took it easy at home as well and started to thank people.

Thanking people is very rewarding and easy. Since this blog is about being kind to strangers, I started to focus more on what I enjoy in life. It wasn't part of my routine to thank for things like a great website. It never occured to me to surf to one of my frequently visited sites and look up a way to contact them and thank them. I now wrote a thank you mail to the BBC, telling them I love their Country Profiles at the bottom of their regional pages.

After a few days I actually got a reply, not a standard reply but a real thank you for my thank you comment. It might sound silly, but that felt pretty good as I hadn't expected a genuine reply at all. Now I got confirmation that someone was actually glad to read my thank you note!

I also contacted my favourite cartoonist, and had the exact same thing: a few days later he wrote back to thank me. It's very nice to see your email wasn't just read, but appreciated enough for the other person to write back.

Now I am planning on making the thank you email a routine. It's so easy to thank strangers for their creativity, their work, their stories, etc. About as easy as it is rewarding.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quick Summary

I haven't been around here much these days - I'll get back to that later.
I did meet my goal to be nice on a daily basis - and got quite some niceness in return.

What I did in August:

- Daily greetings.
- Letting people in a hurry cut the line in a supermarket.
- Asking a total stranger if she enjoys her work.
- Freed a goat from a piece of rope the poor thing got it's head stuck in. Basically it was accidentally tied to a gate this way.
- Locked the car door of someone who apparently forgot to do so.
- Held the elevator.
- Held the door.
- Gave directions to tourists.
- Told 2 new Amsterdammers who were looking for a place to practice yoga where to go.
- Helped someone with material for her research, see her comment in this post.
- Brought a bouncing todler from the pavement back to her mum inside a store.
- Been an absolute great tipper, as always.

As you can imagine, this was easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Barely cost any time, barely cost any Euro's.
And very happy and proud to still be on the right track for my project of being a perfect stranger for 365 days in a row!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness for Tourists

Years ago I worked as a photo editor at a photo press agency. How on earth I ended up there, looking back I honestly haven't got a clue as my main interest as an editor is to edit text, not pictures. But a colleague of mine was as interested in photography as you might expect from your average photo editor. He used to walk around the city with his camera in his hand or around his neck most of the time.

He told me that - almost daily - this resulted in a request by tourists to use their camera and take a picture of them. He would always agree (that in itself is obviously a random act of kindness to strangers) but he'd add a little something extra. As soon as the loving couple, family or group of friends were in position he would... Just stand there with the camera, without pushing the button.

After a couple of seconds, someone would hesitantly point out that the button was on the ... side of the camera... Right there... See? O yes, he would nod, he didn't realize and again, he'd assume the photographer position and... Not press the button. Then, surely, most of, if not all of the posing people would stop posing and THAT's when he would *CLICK*! And hand the camera over with a big smile.

I remember thinking my colleague was a bit of a jerk for doing that, but he continued his story. 'Who needs those dorky posed pictures? It is way more fun when everyone is just acting like themselves. And more importantly: I'll look like a total dork and they'll have a story to go with the picture, in stead of a boring holiday picture.'

I'm not sure if his logic makes sense; maybe most people just toss the picture, but I really like the thought behind his anti-holiday picture.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots

Yes, reclaiming the streets, one step at a time. It's easier said than done, when looking at the riots in Great Britain.

Why did those riots start? Was it absence of faith, hope, fathers, direction? Was it because crime pays? Was it because commercials raise greedy consumerists? Was it because English politicians have done a lousy job taking care of certain groups? Was it because the police was unprepared? Was it because of racism?

Quite frankly, I don't know, but I'm sure of one thing: there are multiple reasons people misbehaved, and one of them is that people these days seem to think they're entitled to anything and everything.

Why did they loot? Simple. Because they could.

It's hard for me to think that people can do this to each other; people didn't just lose their house or shop, people got killed. It's mindblowing to think that this could happen almost anywhere in Europe.

I find it hard to focus on the good side of people in times like these; humans tend to be disappointing in so many ways. But that's obviously not what this blog is about. So let's have a good look at some of the nicer things that happened right after the riots.

People picked up brooms for the riot cleanup, some folks realized police had been working 30 hour shifts and might like themselves an oh so British cup of tea, and saving the best for last this initiative to help an 89 year old barber rebuild his barber shop that was ransacked by very brave kids indeed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kindness responses, slowly but surely

People have started to answer me. I actually get one of the softest, faintest 'hello's' in the world in the morning these days. The evening crew is still a hard nut to crack, but I'm confident we'll get there. One step at a time, reclaiming those streets.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sometimes being kind to strangers is as easy as...

Not being completely asocial. Let me elaborate on that.

Last week everyone in our area got a direct marketing message from a hotel chain, in the shape of a 'do not disturb' cards you find on hotel doors. This marketing tool was hung on everyone's door knob and when my significant other found it leaving the house, he took it with him to immediately throw it in the trash. All the other door knobs were still carrying the 'do not disturb' sign.

When he came back home from grocery shopping, he found another one on our door. One of the other door knobs was now message free. Basically, the only explanation was, that the person who lived behind that door, took it and hung it on our bare door. Why they did this, is obviously not clear to me, but I take it, this person was too lazy to bring it down stairs and throw it in the trash, but was not to lazy to walk over to our door and hang it there.

Now obviously this is not a big issue or deal, but I do feel that this illustrates quite well how we are all living our own lives, not caring too much about the one's of others.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cozy Street Art

There are people out there who aren't just nice to people face to face; they even try to lift other people's spirits up by improving the living space we share. 

Knitted graffiti is one of them. Though I'm not sure if they are the godfathers of this knitting movement for sure, a group by the name of 'Knitta Please' started back in 2005 with the mission 'to make street art a little more warm and fuzzy.' A mission I can only support warm heartily, coming from a rather cold and grey country...

I love the idea of sharing your hobby this way. For this pic I chose a tiny knit bit, but maybe you've seen the beautiful art work some are making around the world. Entire trees get a make over!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Summary

So last week I did the following:

  • I greeted 
  • Held the door open for a mother and child
  • Discussed the vacation plans of my dry cleaner's who was having a boring, slow day
  • I smiled - got a wink from a father while his wife was walking next to him (guys, don't do that, it's offputting and not nice to your lady; she's the pearl in your life, especially when she's right there next to you. If you need more info on that, by all means, drop me an email and I'll try to explain it to you)
  • Offered a handkerchief to a crying woman
  • Wiped the sink in a public bathroom for the person after me; I personally hate the sight of messy sinks
Normally I would not have greeted in a lot of cases. I smile often at people, so that was nothing new. But I would not have talked to my dry cleaner's as I am usually a bit on the shy side, I would not have offered that hanky for the same reason and I would not have wiped that sink if I hadn't come up with this blog. 

So those are small improvements. Small, but nonetheless improvements. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The CouchSurfing Project

One of the most rewarding and fun ways to be kind to a stranger that I know of is CouchSurfing.
This is an online project that has been around since 2003 and I'm surprised how often I have to explain what it is. It's been picked up by different kinds of media around the world, and there are almost 3 million users; hardly an underground group.

Personally I love to host and prefer it to actually surfing, as I don't really like to stay in other people's houses. Showing the city that I'm proud of is one of the most wonderful things to do and I try to make people feel at home, both in my house and in my town. Right now, unfortunately, I can't host all that much as my boyfriend's not a CouchSurfer, but I still show people around, once every so often.

I can't stress enough how much fun it is to make someone feel at home in a foreign country, to show them the non touristic route, to be their company away from home, to talk for hours and especially to see your city through brand new eyes. It always amazes me how easy it is to share the most private stories with strangers and how much you can learn from one another.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Here's not looking at you, kid

Acting nuts is normal, acting normal is nuts.

That's what I felt today, anyway. This morning I said 'hi' again, and basically I think the result will be the same each and every time, no matter where or how you say it to people you see on a daily basis, but never talk to. Most of them are too startled to react to this simple word at all. People either pretend to not have heard you, or they mumble 'hello' while looking at the floor, the toes of their shoes, but not, no, anything but while looking at you.

But whatever their reaction - or non reactions - they exposed themselves by acting differently as soon as the bus arrived. All of them insisted I'd enter first. Seriously.

- 'After you'
- 'No, really, thank you'
- 'Please, I insist'
- 'Oh, no, I insist, please'

Insert hand and arm gestures where appropriate.

Apparently they all did notice my greeting and came to the conclusion that I was nice.
Nice enough to be the first one to enter.
Or maybe they were embarrassed by not or barely answering earlier.
I enjoyed getting on more than ever, I have to say.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tomorrow is another day

Well, that didn't exactly turn out as I had planned. The first guy who I said 'hi' topretended to not have heard it and sat down next to me to read the Metro. The second guy didn't even look in our direction and on the way back I was picked up by my boyfriend to go out for dinner, so I didn't get anywhere near my usual suspects.

I did get to give a hanky to a young woman who was bawling her eyes out during lunch time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Neighbours

"Goodmorning, ma'am. Are you OK with me offering you a bouquet of flowers?' I overheard my next door neighbour ask my upstairs neigbour. After a short silence he explained: 'Someone gave me this beautiful bouquet, but I'm going to be on a trip for over a week, so I would like you to have it. Would you mind if I gave it to you? ' My upstairs neighbour shrugged. 'Sure. OK.' And that was it.

This is only the fifth blog entry and this afternoon I already found myself thinking: 'O dear, what have I started.' Not the being friendly part, but the blogging part. What if what happened to my neighbour happened to me? Am I even the right person to write about kindness? I am very demanding, and expect people to be enthusiastic when I'm nice. I'd sulk or get impatient if they weren't. Had I been my next door neighbour I'd be moping how I'd better have asked someone else, someone who actually appreciated this very nice gesture of mine. Someone who saw the value of neighbourliness etc. etc. Would I still feel like writing about kindness to strangers if I got reactions like this time after time?

Luckily I know myself pretty well so I saw this 'what have I started' phase coming from a mile away, so yesterday I wrote down a list of topics I could touch. I read a lot about random acts of kindness last weekend and was pretty surprised about how many lights are shed on this topic. I raised an eyebrow when I read it is actually a trend, because what that really means is that being kind is now trendy in the marketing world. I found a lot of touching stories of people online and some blog entries and articles with tips and summaries of the benefits of being kind.

So, here I'll tell myself to get on with it, already.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

After I came up with the idea for this project last weekend, I started to think about the last time I did a random act of kindness. Just that day I had smiled broadly at a woman who looked a bit down, which made her light up, and I helped 3 toads cross the road (trust me, other species count, too).

But I also noticed something funny: people were nice. And by that I mean: they were nicer than usual. It was almost as if they knew I had this plan in mind. I was on the bus and didn't have bus fare, but the ticket machine on board was out of order. I told the driver and explained I didn't have any change on me, so I couldn't buy one from him either. As I headed for the door he said: 'Hey... Never mind. It's OK. Just sit down'. 

Later I was in line at a grocery store with nothing but a can of pop, and the person in front of me with loads of groceries let me cut the line. That hasn't happened to me in ages. On another day I brought my boots to the cobbler just to have the heels repaired and he actually fixed the toes of the boots - damaged by bad pavement - too, at no cost. 

Now, to pay all that forward puts a lot of pressure on me for the upcoming week. I'm already slightly nervous about upcoming Tuesday, when I have to greet the people at the busstop, as it's way out of our routine. But that's the whole point. Breaking that routine of shutting yourself off.

Lastly, I'd secretly like to thank blood donors for doing an incredibly good deed - someone I love just got good news from the hospital on Friday, thanks to you, anonymous strangers!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tears dry on their own

I was in the middle of writing a post, when I heard Amy Winehouse died at the tender age of 27.
Though I was sure she wasn't going to live a long life, I was quite shocked and saddened - already affected by the events in Norway - and had to think of a note she wrote when she was 17 years old - 10 years before she died... 

I had heard of her, but it wasn't until 'Rehab' became a hit that I really got to know her music. As a singer from the 00ies, she stood out so much - no one seemed to have even half her talent. With her music she made lonely people feel like they had a bond, with her words she assured them they shared a sad experience or outlook on life, love and relationships... 

If only she had stuck to her plan to 'live her life like the bomb shell I really am' - how different her life would have been. Maybe that's today's message: be nice to people, but never, ever forget to be nice and especially never, ever be anything but good to yourself. Especially when you're as talented as Amy Winehouse.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just saying 'hi'

The easiest way to be kind to a stranger is just saying 'hi'. I didn't just happen to write about a bus ride in my first post as just an example, I'm on a bus on a daily basis as I travel to and from work. And every time I get on I say 'hi' to the bus driver and when I get off I say thank you and wish the bus driver a nice day or evening.

As I said, that is, very, very easy. But why greet just the bus driver? Why won't I acknowledge the presence of all my fellow commuters? Some of them answer their calls politely and loud, so I know their first name. I even know that a young woman lives with a roommate whom she tells to buy certain groceries and I know how they both hate cleaning the apartment and are very happy on a not so regular basis to have 'finally cleaned the entire kitchen.'

I know one guy has a dog and lives in a fabulous apartment not too far from mine. Someone else was very dissapointed by a friend whom she ended a call with only after shouting she thought this friend was 'a very bad judge of character!' A blonde in a navy blue trenchcoat never, ever wears any other shoes but her black pumps with low heels. And I know one woman got pregnant and is now on mat leave. Or really she had ballooned and from one day to the next she wasn't on the bus anymore, so I came to the mat leave conclusion myself.

But we never speak. And that's OK. But we also never say 'hello'. And why not, for heaven's sake? I'm probably going to put more thinking into reasons behind the behaviour, but for now I will settle for starting to say 'hi' to my fellow straphangers. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reclaiming the Streets

It was one of those rainy autumn days in the Netherlands, one of those rainy days where there's no hiding from a drop as it is absolutely pouring down, all over your face, down your neck, if unlucky your shoes... And I saw this woman as only Dutch women can look in the rain; soaked and bent over her bike like a hunchback.

For a second, our eyes met. We recognized the miserable state we brought ourselves in. Thinking this horrible weather was a personal insult. I cracked up first. Then she broke into a big smile. The hunchback disappeared and got replaced by a self confident, happy -oh, the hell with it - type of blonde, who was going to take on that day from that moment on like there was no tomorrow.

That is what this blog is about.

About connection. With perfect strangers. About becoming that perfect stranger.


Because I had to go all the way back into the 90ies for this lovely memory.

Because I don't like the way we treat each other these days. Like we are not strangers, but instead, like Patrick Bateman, we are simply not there. Or rather The Others are simply not there. We ignore each other on the sidewalk. In our favourite cafe we slouch our hunchback over our cup of coffee and our iPhone or iPad. We are all alone on a bus so full of people that it takes tremendous effort to pretend not to notice each  other. We are not standing in line at the grocery store with other people and God forbid we'd say 'hi' to anyone on the elevator.

I'm starting this blog because I thought it is easy to be nice. Or is it? I want to prove it is. I am going to be nice in some shape, way or form to someone I don't or barely know on a daily basis for a year. And keep you posted. I'm also going to keep you posted on all the nice things strangers do for me or people around me. Because in all honesty, despite my little rant in the previous paragraph, lots of anonymous folks are changing the world by being friendly, helping or understanding. You're probably one of them, or you wouldn't be reading this. Let's reclaim the streets.